PFAS as an Emerging Class of Contaminants in the Environment
PFAS or 'Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances' are a group of synthetic compounds that have been produced commercially since the 1950s. PFAS were widely used in a variety of consumer goods, from waterproof clothing to non-stick kitchenware in order to make goods stain and stick resistant. PFAS have also been widely used in industrial products, particularly in Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs) for firefighting.
While these chemicals are being phased out in many countries, PFAS and related compounds (there is estimated to be >4000 PFAS identified in the literature) may still be found in imported products or as part of old stock still in use. The PFAS contamination issue and understanding is a constantly evolving global issue.
Australia now has guidance on environmental regulation of PFAS, the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP).
PFAS have been detected in many areas of the environment, including the currently regulated Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These three PFAS compounds and others are persistent in the environment, and hence, can bio-accumulate or ‘build up’ in some living organisms and the surrounding environment.
Envirolab was an early adopter to the Total Oxidisable Precursor Assay (TOPA) which may assist in determining the presence of precursor PFAS compounds i.e. PFAS that can chemically and/or biotransform into the persistent PFAS. For example, PFOS, PFHxS and PFOA.
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Testing for PFAS at Envirolab
Analysis is conducted by combining liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry (LC-MSMS).
The LC-MSMS technology provides a fast and accurate method for detecting PFAS in a variety of sample matrices, including water, soil, blood/serum and biota.
Future testing in air is now feasible with international regulatory bodies developing suitable sampling and analysis techniques.