What Are PFAS Chemicals?
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of industrial chemicals that have been used for decades in a variety of common products such as non-stick cookware and stain resistant fabrics. PFAS can also be found in firefighting foam and some pesticides.
PFAS chemicals pose a risk to human health; they have been linked to developmental harm, hormonal changes, cancer and more. On top of that, these synthetic compounds are known to remain in the environment for long periods of time, further exacerbating their effects on humans and the ecosystem as a whole.
To protect people against exposure to PFAS, many governments are taking steps to identify problem PFAS chemicals in their countries and limit its production and usage.
How Are PFAS Chemicals Regulated?
Despite its widespread use, research has revealed this class of chemicals can be toxic to human health. As a result of these findings, various governments around the world have taken steps to regulate PFA usage over time.
In 2000, the European Union was among the first to take action by banning the production and importation of some PFAS variants for certain applications. Over the years different jurisdictions have continued bringing in pieces of legislation limiting the use of PFAS in industries ranging from food packaging and textiles to agricultural treatments and fire-fighting foams. Today, PFAS remain highly regulated with significant limitations placed on production and usage across many countries in an effort to protect human health and reduce environmental contamination.
Europe: Highly Regulated
The EU recognizes PFAS chemicals as “substances of very high concern” and has placed restriction and bans on their uses since 2006. Since then, PFAS regulation has been tightened progressively throughout the European Union with specific concentration limits for PFAS chemicals being established for some consumer products available on the market in 2019.
In 2020, PFAS chemicals were added to the list of prohibited substances under REACH (Registration Evaluation Authorization of Chemicals) regulations that require companies to apply for authorization prior to using PFAS-containing materials starting from July 2021.
More Info: ECHA – Latest PFAS-related Updates
United States: Regulated
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating PFAS chemicals in 1979 by adding them to the toxic substances control act list, declaring PFAS to be potential human health hazards. Since then, PFAS have been detected at increasingly high levels in air, soil, and water samples across the US.
In the last decade the EPA has further regulated PFAS, adding standards for PFAS in drinking water, developing cleanup processes for contaminated sites, and establishing PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for investigation and clean-up under Superfund laws. In addition to those government regulations, several states have followed suit by passing their own restrictions on PFAS production and use – often going beyond what the EPA has done – to fight contamination from these dangerous substances.
The regulation of PFAS chemicals in Canada can be traced back to the late 2000s when PFAS were recognized as potent toxicants capable of compromising human health. The Canadian government responded by introducing targeted regulations into the Fisheries Act and soon after, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA 1999) was amended to list PFAS compounds for assessment.
The CEPA amendment enabled Health Canada to begin regulating PFAS in consumer and industrial products through product-specific limits and prohibitions depending on PFAS use. Since then, this amendment has been strengthened with additional regulations such as an 86 PFAS substances list published in 2012.
Where Are PFAS Found? (Most Common Products)
PFAS most well-known property is a “nonstick” nature but it has a wide variety of applications and is found in a plethora of everyday products. It’s most commonly found in these products:
- Nonstick cookware
- Water-resistant fabrics
- Cleaning products
- Carpets, upholstery, and fabrics with stain resistant coatings
- Personal care products