Many of the compounds in this group are suspected of damaging the unborn child, impairing fertility and causing harm to breast-fed children. Some of them are also suspected of causing cancer.
Several of the compounds in this group fulfil the criteria to be regarded as persistent, bioaccumulative or mobile and toxic to the environment (i.e. PMT, PBT).
They may also be very toxic to aquatic life and very toxic to aquatic life, with long-lasting effects.
Function and use
Highly fluorinated (poly- and perfluorinated) compounds like PFOS, PFAS, PTFE are man-made and used because of their water and oil repelling properties on surfaces of a variety of materials. Some PFAS chemicals also serve a function as lubricants.
Due to their chemical structure these compounds do not interact with either polar or non-polar molecules. For the same reason, these molecules have been found to be extremely resistant to degradation and thus persist in nature for a long time.
Areas of application
Textile and leather impregnation products are the major applications for highly fluorinated substances, for use on products such as all-weather clothing, tents, shoes, rugs, upholstered furniture and awnings.
Other uses for highly fluorinated compounds are coatings on paper and paper-based food packaging, as building blocks or additives in the production of heat-resistant non-stick coatings (like Teflon) used in pots and pans, and as a constituent at levels ranging from low to very high in chemical products such as floor polishes, window cleaners, car care products, ski waxes, lubricants and fire foam of type B.
Some PFAS may be found in some cosmetic products.
Within the EU, PFOS and substances that can be degraded to PFOS are restricted by POPs legislation and the UN air convention (LRTAP).
PFOA is included in REACH annex XVII, entry 68, with a sunset date for production in 2020 and will also be included in POPs.
For other poly- and perfluorinated substances there are no restrictions. However, several, including PFOA, are included in the REACH Candidate List.
The most efficient way to phase out the use of fluorinated compounds would be to substitute them for other coatings or materials with similar water- and/or grease-repellent properties.
Examples of suppliers that provide readily compostable alternatives for treated paper-based single-use food packaging are Nordic Paper and Rottneros. Alternatives to pans with Teflon non-stick coating are pans made of stainless steel or cast iron or with a ceramic surface.
Alternative chemical solutions for adding water repellence to textiles, footwear and other products are available on the market. For most alternative technologies no details on the identity of the substances used are revealed to the public.
There are also several alternative coatings for paper-based food packaging, for example based on PLA, PE, EVA, silicone, clay, and other proprietary-branded coatings and treatments.