Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large class of thousands of synthetic chemicals that are used throughout society. However, they are increasingly detected as environmental pollutants and some are linked to negative effects on human health.
They all contain carbon-fluorine bonds, which are one of the strongest chemical bonds in organic chemistry. This means that they resist degradation when used and also in the environment. Most PFAS are also easily transported in the environment covering long distances away from the source of their release.
PFAS have been frequently observed to contaminate groundwater, surface water and soil. Cleaning up polluted sites is technically difficult and costly. If releases continue, they will continue to accumulate in the environment, drinking water and food.
Broad PFAS restriction proposal:
- Have your say on the proposal to restrict PFAS by 25 September 2023
- Information session for all stakeholders on 5 April at 11:00 Helsinki time
- ECHA publishes PFAS restriction proposal, 7 February 2023
Restriction proposal on PFASs in firefighting foams:
- ECHA's scientific committees take more time to conclude on restricting PFASs in firefighting foams, 19 Oct 2022
- Proposal to ban 'forever chemicals' in firefighting foams throughout the EU, 23 Feb 2022
PFAS have a wide range of different physical and chemical properties. They can be gases, liquids, or solid high-molecular weight polymers. Some PFAS are described as long-chain or short-chain, but this does not cover all of the different kinds of structures that are present in the PFAS class, which is very diverse. PFASs can be sorted in many ways based on their structure.
PFAS are widely used as they have unique desirable properties. For instance, they are stable under intense heat. Many of them are also surfactants and are used, for example, as water and grease repellents.
Some of the major industry sectors using PFAS include aerospace and defence, automotive, aviation, food contact materials, textiles, leather and apparel, construction and household products, electronics, firefighting, food processing, and medical articles.
Over the past decades, global manufacturers have started to replace certain PFAS with other PFAS or with fluorine-free substances. This trend has been driven by the fact that scientists and governments around the world first recognised the harmful effects of some PFAS (particularly long-chain PFAS) on human health and the environment. As the focus shifted to other PFAS, these have also been found to have properties of concern.
The majority of PFAS are persistent in the environment. Some PFAS are known to persist in the environment longer than any other synthetic substance. As a consequence of this persistence, as long as PFAS continue to be released to the environment, humans and other species will be exposed to ever greater concentrations. Even if all releases of PFAS would cease tomorrow, they would continue to be present in the environment, and humans, for generations to come.
The behaviour of PFAS in the environment means that they tend to pollute groundwater and drinking water, which is difficult and costly to remediate. Certain PFAS are known to accumulate in people, animals and plants and cause toxic effects. Certain PFASs are toxic for reproduction and can harm the development of foetuses. Several PFAS may cause cancer in humans. Some PFAS are also suspected of interfering with the human endocrine (hormonal) system.
PFAS are released into the environment from direct and indirect sources, for example, from professional and industrial facilities using PFAS, during use of consumer products (e.g. cosmetics, ski waxes, clothing) and from food contact materials. Humans can be exposed to them every day at home, in their workplace and through the environment, for example, from the food they eat and drinking water.
In June 2022, the Stockholm Convention parties decided to include PFHxS, its salts and related compounds in the treaty. This global ban is expected to enter into force at the end of 2023.
Long-chain perfluorinated carboxylic acids (C9-21 PFCAs) are being considered for inclusion in the Stockholm Convention and consequent global elimination.
The national authorities of Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are proposing a restriction covering a wide range of PFAS uses – in support of the statements made in the Environment Council in December 2019. They submitted their proposal to ECHA in January 2023, and ECHA’s scientific committees are now evaluating it.
Furthermore, ECHA introduced in January 2022 a restriction proposal for PFAS used in firefighting foams. ECHA's scientific committees are expected to finalise the evaluation of the proposal in June 2023. This use is not included in the wider PFAS restriction proposed by the five national authorities.
- 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy)propionic acid, its salts and its acyl halides (HFPO-DA), a short-chain PFAS substitute for PFOA in fluoropolymer production, was the first substance added to the Candidate List. Its ammonium salt is commonly known as GenX. [General Court judgment];
- perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) and its salts, a replacement of PFOS; and
- perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) and its salts.
- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA);
- ammonium pentadecafluorooctanoate (APFO);
- perfluorononan-1-oic acid (PFNA) and its sodium and ammonium salts;
- nonadecafluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) and its sodium and ammonium salts; and
- perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA).
Video on the European ban on PFAS prepared by the The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Copyright: RIVM.
Stay updated -
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- Substances restricted under REACH
- Candidate List of substances of very high concern for Authorisation
- Authorisation List
- Community Rolling Action Plan
- Harmonised classification and labelling
- Addressing substances of concern
- European Green Deal: Commission proposes rules for cleaner air and water, 26 Oct 2022
- Council formally adopts further restrictions to ‘forever chemicals’ in waste, 24 Oct 2022
- Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability
- Commission staff working document: Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
- EFSA's PFAS draft opinion explained
- Commission welcomes provisional agreement to improve the quality of drinking water and the access to it
- Chemical pollutants — restrictions on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- EEA: Emerging chemical risks in Europe — ‘PFAS’
- European Environmental Bureau's PFAS page
- New study shows: One-year-old children demonstrate lower concentration of vaccine antibodies with high PFOA concentration in the blood [PDF] [EN]
- German Environment Agency: "Potential SVHC in environment and articles – information collection with the aim to prepare restriction proposals for PFAS”
- OECD: Portal on Per and Poly Fluorinated Chemicals
- US EPA: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
- Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC)