Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are widely used chemicals containing the perfluorocarbon moiety. They are known for their unique water, oil, heat, stain, as well as grease repellent properties. PFASs are used in various products such as fire-fighting foam, protective clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and insulation of electrical wires.
The carbon-fluoride bond is one of the strongest in nature, making these substances highly persistent and bio-accumulative. PFASs can contaminate soil and drinking water sources and have been found in rivers and lakes. Combined with their widespread use and increasing evidence of toxicity, concerns are being raised about their impact on human health and the environment.
In the UK, we must urgently address PFAS water pollution to minimise the potential for negative health effects today and in future generations. By implementing stronger regulatory controls on PFAS in drinking water, the UK has an opportunity to show international leadership in managing chemicals in the environment and furthering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG6 on clean water.
Download our PFAS in UK Drinking Water position statement
The , was signed in 2015, by scientists from around the world calling on scientists, governments, manufacturers, and consumers to take actions to limit PFAS production and use.
The Stockholm Convention has recently classified certain PFASs under Annex A, meaning all signatories must eliminate their use. Exemptions are made for semiconductor manufacturing, protective industrial clothing, medical devices, and some fire-fighting devices.
European Union's Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (EU REACH) has classified PFAS into a single group encompassing approximately 4700 substances. Planned EU aims to create "Essential Use concept", for the broad restriction of PFAS.
Following from the United Kingdom's exit from the EU, GB REACH was created to develop the UK's future chemicals regulatory framework. Northern Ireland is excluded from the framework based on the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
We also held an event in June 2022 on Risk and Essential Use. As part of the discussions on a UK Chemical Strategy, the government needs to find pragmatic and proportionate ways forward in chemical risk management and decision-making that society can trust to keep them safe whilst enabling innovation. At the event, we discussed these issues with around 60 delegates, bringing natural scientists, social scientists and policymakers together to discuss risk and precaution in chemicals policy and chemicals safety decision-making. A report on the contents of the workshop can be downloaded below:
Download our risk workshop report here