These days, everyone’s talking about per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) — what they are, why they’re important, and how we can prevent their harmful effects on people and our planet. But how much do you really know about these pesky chemicals? This article breaks down the basics.
All about PFAS: the "forever" chemicals
PFAS chemicals are widely used, long-lasting chemicals. They are a large family of synthetic compounds used in a variety of consumer products and manufacturing processes. Due to their strong and stable carbon-fluorine bonds, these substances don’t break down and continue to bioaccumulate. Consequently, they remain some of the most persistent environmental contaminants seen today.
PFAS are found all over the globe
PFAS are found in water, air, and soil across the globe. Because of their widespread use over many years and their persistence in the environment, many PFAS are present in the blood of people and a variety of animals all over the world, and are found at low levels in a variety of food products.
PFAS chemicals cycle through the environment daily in air, water, soil and sediments. Through this cycle, they bioaccumulate in fish, wildlife and humans.
PFAS chemicals can be harmful to humans
Most people are exposed to PFAS from drinking water and eating food that contain these chemicals. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, exposure to PFAS can increase cholesterol and cancer risks, as well as interfere with hormones and thyroid performance.
There’s plenty we will still don’t know about PFAS
There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products. This makes it challenging to study and assess the potential human health and environmental risks. Despite these challenges, researchers across the globe are working hard to answer critical questions about PFAS, including:
- How to better and more efficiently detect and measure PFAS in our air, water, fish and wildlife
- How much people are exposed to PFAS
- How harmful PFAS are to people and the environment
- How to remove PFAS from drinking water
- How to manage and dispose of PFAS
Answers to these questions will help local, state, and global partners make more informed decisions on how best to protect human health and the environment.
LC-MS/MS is playing an important role in studying PFAS
As the scientific community’s understanding of PFAS increases, regulatory bodies around the globe often update testing requirements to protect human health. This makes PFAS a fast-paced, dynamic field, where laboratories need to regularly keep up with changing regulations and the discovery of new contaminants.
Standardized PFAS analytical methods use modern analytical techniques such as solid-phase extraction, combustion ion chromatography (CIC), liquid chromatography (LC) and mass spectrometry (MS) to separate, identify and quantify known PFAS in samples.
Want to learn more about PFAS testing, technologies and methods?
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