PFAS: The Hidden Chemicals You May Have Been Exposed To and How to Avoid Them
Chances are you may have been exposed to PFAS without knowing it.
PFAS is the acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of more than 4,700 man-made substances that do not break down in nature and they can last almost forever. That’s why they are also known as “forever chemicals”.
These substances are widely utilized for their excellent water and oil repellency properties. And they have set the basis for many technological advancements. However, they tend to accumulate in the environment and humans. The presence of PFAS in the environment has become a growing concern, as they can contaminate soil, groundwater and surface water. This contamination can have a significant impact on ecosystems, sea life, and human health and can cause cancer, infertility and other diseases.
Returning to the initial statement, how did you come in contact with PFAS?
Exposure can happen through eating, drinking or using consumer products containing PFAS.
Examples and sources are:
- Cooking using a non-stick pan containing PFAS,
- Drinking contaminated water (PFAS are highly persistent and escape traditional wastewater treatment technology),
- Using cosmetics and cleansers containing PFAS
- Eating fast food from compostable bowls or sandwich wrappers
- Carpet flooring,
- Textile coatings,
- Fire-fighting foam,
- and yes – you will not believe it – in toilet paper too
Figure 1: PFAS routes of exposure and sources
What is the level of contamination?
An impactful and significant image is the map of PFAS pollution throughout Europe.
Figure 2: PFAS pollution in Europe (source: Forever Pollution Project)
Alongside 17 partners, Le Monde has created the above “Forever Pollution Map” of Europe.
The map has revealed over 17,000 sites with confirmed PFAS contamination as well as 21,000 presumptive contamination sites and over 2,100 “hotspots” where the concentration of PFAS in water, soil or living organisms exceeds 100 ng/L.
The challenge of PFAS is given by their ubiquitous presence as they are used in a variety of products and are persistent due to their chemical structure. PFAS are indeed characterized by carbon-fluoride bonds, one of the strongest in nature. This means PFAS do not degrade after use or release into the environment.
How can you avoid exposure to PFAS?
As for everything, the saying “Prevention is better than cure” applies to PFAS too.
In other words, beyond removing the PFAS already present in the environment, new products should be conceived without using PFAS.
In this regard, the European Union has been moving toward their restriction since 2009, and more recently, some EU countries even proposed a complete PFAS ban to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
Besides, the European Union is eager to find alternative solutions to using PFAS and replace them with bio-based materials by funding innovative research projects.
One of these is the EU Horizon-funded project, BIO-SUSHY, that aims to revolutionize the coating industry, one of the sources of PFAS production.
BIO-SUSHY aims to develop 3 PFAS-free coatings
By developing innovative, bio-friendly solutions that meet the EU’s policy ambition for a safer environment, BIO-SUSHY plans to create durable, water and oil repellent coatings. The focus will be on developing 3 validated PFAS-free bio-based coatings in the textiles, food trays and glass cosmetic packaging applications.
Figure 3: BIO-SUSHY coatings properties and applications
Based on a Safe and Sustainable by Design (SSbD) methodology combined with R&I coating development and computational modelling, BIO-SUSHY seeks to achieve these objectives.
Through the use of advanced functionalization with bio-based additives and processing technologies, such as bio-based thermoplastic powder and hybrid organic/inorganic coating by sol-gel, BIO-SUSHY will create safer materials that possess hydrophobic and oleophobic properties.
Do you want to know more about the potential market applications of BIO-SUSHY?
Then stay tuned for the next blog article!