Scientists will refine which chemicals are PFAS

By Cheryl Hogue
Chemical & Engineering News

A look ahead at the issues that will affect—and connect—chemists and chemistry across the globe

By C&EN Staff
January 10, 2021 | VOLUME 99, ISSUE 2

Several chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates have been identified in New Jersey soil samples with varying numbers of perfluoroethyl (shown in red) and perfluoropropyl (shown in black) groups.

This year, an international panel of scientists plans to release a more precise definition of a class of chemicals often found in news headlines—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Takeaways

• Scientists from across the globe will provide a new definition of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

• The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Environment Programme are spearheading this effort.

PFAS are a group of synthetic, environmentally stable “forever chemicals” that persist in the environment. They include inert polymers such as polytetrafluoroethylene—used in Teflon—and toxic, biologically active compounds such as the widespread pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFAS also include novel compounds that researchers have discovered in the environment near industrial facilities. One is hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), a substance formed via hydrolysis from GenX, Chemours’s replacement for PFOA. Others are chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates, detected in soil near a Solvay plant in New Jersey.

The panel, the Global Perfluorinated Chemicals Group, is reviewing “the universe and terminology of PFAS,” says Marie-Ange Baucher, administrator for chemical accidents and risk management of chemicals at the Environment Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Baucher and the group’s leader, Zhanyun Wang, a senior scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, expect the panel to publish a report early this year.

The panel was established in 2012 at the third International Conference on Chemicals Management and is supported by the OECD and the United Nations Environment Programme.
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*Original article online at https://cen.acs.org/business/CENs-World-Chemical-Outlook-2021/99/i2#Scientists-will-refine-which-chemicals-are-PFAS

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