What are PFAS?
- Depending on the definition of “PFAS” – also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – between 4700 and 9000 substances may be labelled as PFAS. Not all PFAS are in commercial use. OECD definition of PFAS (version July 2021): “PFASs are defined as fluorinated substances that contain at least one fully fluorinated methyl or methylene carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I atom attached to it), i.e. with a few noted exceptions, any chemical with at least a perfluorinated methyl group (–CF3) or a perfluorinated methylene group (–CF2–) is a PFAS.”1 This definition includes about 9000 PFAS substances with a large variety of properties, including gases, polymers and liquids, as well as hazard profiles. The OECD finds within this grouping approach 24 subcategories.
- ECHA and the 5 competent authorities’ (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) propose the following definition of PFAS: “PFAS are defined as substances that contain at least one fully fluorinated methyl (CF3-) or methylene (-CF2-) carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I atom attached to it).” This includes about 9000 substances and is similar to the 2021 OECD definition.
- An early and widely recognised technical definition of PFAS is provided by Buck et al. (2011), who defined PFAS as, “highly fluorinated aliphatic substances that contain one or more carbon (C) atoms on which all the hydrogen (H) substituents (present in the nonfluorinated analogues from which they are notionally derived) have been replaced by fluorine (F) atoms, in such a manner that they contain the perfluoroalkyl moiety CnF2n+1 –.”
- PFAS can be divided into sub-groups such as fluoropolymers and F-gases. Find out more about fluoropolymers here and F-Gases here.
What are PFAS used for?
Beyond well-known applications like carpet protectant and non-stick cookware, PFAS are used in industrial applications where their characteristics – durability, thermal and chemical stability, fire resistance, water and oil repellence – are indispensable. PFAS are used in many key EU industry sectors, such as aerospace and defense, transport, textiles, construction, electronics, and health. Our applications section on the website gives a more comprehensive overview.
What are the concerns around PFAS?
PFAS are a large group of molecules and not all have the same properties. Some of the main concerns of regulators are:
- Persistence: Due to their carbon-fluorine bonds PFAS resist degradation when used and also in the environment. One of their main properties is durability when exposed to chemicals, high-temperatures or abrasion. Durability may also lead to persistence in the environment.
- Mobility: Some PFAS are easily transported in the environment for long distances and have been detected in groundwater, surface water and soil.
- Toxicity: Some PFAS have also been detected in the human body causing negative side-effects to our health.
How are PFAS regulated in Europe?
PFAS as a group, are facing a restriction in the EU under REACH from January 2023 onwards. There is no clarity yet on what this restriction will exactly entail. More here.
What is your position on the upcoming PFAS restriction?
Before forming an opinion on the upcoming PFAS restriction, the main purpose of FPP4EU is to understand what a wide PFAS restriction would look like, given the expected focus of the restriction and the complexity of the PFAS universe – thousands of substances with very different properties and a multitude of applications. More to come in our position paper.