PFAS refers to both perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals. One difference between per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances is the amount of carbon chain atoms that are fluorinated. Perfluorinated chemicals have carbon chain atoms that are completely fluorinated, whereas polyfluorinated chemicals will have at least one carbon atom chain that is not fully fluorinated.
PFAS have been heavily manufactured and are used in many industries because of their unique physical and chemical properties. These properties cause PFAS to obtain special characteristics such as: surfactant, oil-repelling, and water-repelling. Along with these characteristics, some PFAS are mobile, environmentally stable, and bioaccumulative. PFAS are found around the world in all types of environments including sediments and surface and groundwater. Some PFAS have also been found in human blood. There is evidence that exposure to certain PFAS can have adverse health effects, and the USEPA published Lifetime Health Advisories for two of the most significant perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs). These two PFAAs are PFOA and PFOS. PFOA and PFOS are now limited to 70 nanograms per liter, which is equivalent to parts per trillion, in drinking water. If any more than 70 ng/L of chemicals are present, the EPA cautions that it is unsafe to consume.
Because of the health and environmental risks discovered, PFAS have been placed under the category of CECs, or contaminants of emerging concern. Chemicals labeled as CECs typically have known or potentially harmful effects on human health or the environment. Along with harmful effects on health and the environment, CECs either: “(1) do not have regulatory cleanup standards, or (2) regulatory standards are evolving due to new science, detection capabilities or pathways, or both.”
When the EPA released an action plan about PFAS in February 2019, they addressed the costs and effectiveness of different methods for removing or reducing PFAS in the environment. The research that came from this research question produced the examination of different drinking water treatments and contaminated site cleanups.
For more information, you can find the EPA landing for PFAS here, https://www.epa.gov/pfas.
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