SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
18 December 2014
Volume 15 Issue 12

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Emerging Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

Jonathan Benskin, AXYS Analytical Services Ltd., Rob Letcher, Environment Canada, and Amila De Silva, Environment Canada

Emerging Per-
Session chairs Rob Letcher (left), Jonathan Benskin (middle) and Amila De Silva (right) sporting their Canadian tuxedos.

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are globally disseminated contaminants and of environmental concern due to their persistence, chain-length dependent bioaccumulation potential, and adverse health effects in exposed lab animals. Worldwide and large-scale production of PFAAs and PFAA-precursors continue despite increasing restrictions and phase-outs. Meanwhile, alternative fluorinated chemistries are being introduced into the marketplace with frequency and little accompanying data on their potential hazards.

The goal of this year’s session on “Emerging Per- and Polyfluoroalklyl Substances (PFAS)” at the SETAC North America 35th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, was to highlight recent advances in research pertaining to PFASs, with a particular focus on emerging PFASs and their importance in the environmental context. A total of 31 abstracts were submitted to the session, covering diverse topics including occurrence, (bio)degradation, human exposure, risk assessment and bioaccumulation modeling.

Highlights of the platform session included the use of high-resolution mass spectrometry for characterization of both emerging fluorinated substances with low molecular weight (Y. Liu, University of Alberta) but also direct measurement of high molecular weight fluorinated polymers (K. Rankin, University of Toronto). A comparison of performance characteristics of textiles containing emerging PFASs and non-fluorinated alternatives to those with historical substances (I. Cousins, Stockholm University, Sweden) revealed that replacements display excellent water repellent properties but poor oil repellency. While much of the session covered emerging PFASs, Robin Vestergren (NILU, Tromso, Norway) demonstrated that continued production of perfluorooctane sulfonates (PFOS) and related substances in China has led to ongoing exposure in humans and wildlife.

Highlights of the poster session included several studies investigating new tools for artifact-free gas phase sampling of PFAs (C. Young and J. Johansson) and various studies dealing with the occurrence, behavior and importance of PFA-precursors (R. Letcher, S. de Solla, M. Gomis, L. Trouborst, W. Gebbink and K. Barzen-Hanson).

The take-home message was that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are an increasingly diverse class of environmental contaminants, which continue to challenge environmental chemists and toxicologists. As new tools are developed to further our understanding of these ubiquitous contaminants, we must work collaboratively with manufacturers to find safer alternatives yet still meet the needs of consumers.

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