PFAS: Here to Stay

The so-cal­led „fo­re­ver che­mi­cals“ have made their way even into TV prime­time, brin­ging forth both alar­ming and un­sett­ling re­ve­la­ti­ons. In this ar­tic­le, we ex­plo­re the world of PFAS, shed­ding light on what they are, whe­re they ap­pear (spoi­ler: al­most ever­y­whe­re!), cur­rent me­a­su­res be­ing ta­ken, and the chal­lenges ana­ly­ti­cal che­mis­try faced in ad­dres­sing this is­sue.

What are PFAS?

The group of per- or po­ly­fluo­ro­al­kyl sub­s­tances (PFAS) en­com­pas­ses over 10,000 com­pounds. The­se sub­s­tances are syn­the­ti­cal­ly pro­du­ced by re­pla­cing hy­dro­gen atoms eit­her ful­ly (per­fluo­ri­na­ted) or par­ti­al­ly (po­ly­fluo­ri­na­ted) with fluo­ri­ne atoms wi­thin car­bon chains of va­ry­ing lengths. This che­mi­cal al­tera­ti­on re­sults in sub­s­tances that are re­sistant to wa­ter, grease, and dirt. Ad­di­tio­nal­ly, they pos­sess ther­mal and che­mi­cal sta­bi­li­ty. On one hand, the­se pro­per­ties ex­plain their wide-ran­ging ap­pli­ca­ti­ons, such as in cos­me­tics, cook­wa­re, pa­per coa­tings, tex­ti­les, and ski wax. On the other hand, their sta­bi­li­ty rai­ses con­cerns due to their non-biode­gra­da­bili­ty and ac­cu­mu­la­ti­on in the en­vi­ron­ment and li­ving or­ga­nisms sin­ce their in­ven­ti­on in the 1940s.

Ac­cu­mu­la­ti­on me­ans what exact­ly?

Ac­cu­mu­la­ti­on re­fers to the fact that PFAS have been de­tec­ted in ne­ar­ly all li­ving or­ga­nisms, so­me­ti­mes in sur­pri­sin­gly high con­cen­tra­ti­ons. They have been found in fish, ma­ri­ne life, wild­life, milk, and num­e­rous other food sources, as well as hu­man blood and breast milk. Con­se­quent­ly, we car­ry the­se sub­s­tances wi­thin us and con­ti­nu­al­ly in­gest them th­rough food and wa­ter. Ho­we­ver, the con­se­quen­ces of this ex­po­sure are still re­la­tively po­or­ly un­ders­tood. Stu­dies have shown that the most com­mon­ly en­coun­te­red PFAS can im­pact the im­mu­ne sys­tems of in­fants, con­tri­bu­te to lower birth weights, and po­ten­ti­al­ly lead to can­cer and thy­ro­id dis­or­ders.

Ana­ly­ti­cal Chal­lenges

The field of PFAS pres­ents a multi­tu­de of ana­ly­ti­cal chal­lenges. It is es­sen­ti­al not only to bet­ter un­der­stand their ef­fects and de­ve­lop po­ten­ti­al re­me­dia­ti­on me­thods but also to em­ploy che­mi­cal ana­ly­sis to de­tect PFAS re­lia­bly. Ty­pi­cal­ly, a com­bi­na­ti­on of high-pres­su­re li­quid chro­ma­to­gra­phy (HPLC) and mass spec­tro­me­try is used for ana­ly­sis. To ad­dress the di­ver­se ar­ray of com­pounds, me­a­su­re­ment tech­ni­ques need to be ver­sa­ti­le and fle­xi­ble.

One pro­mi­sing ap­proach is the SICRIT ion source, which can be ap­pli­ed in gas chro­ma­to­gra­phy, li­quid chro­ma­to­gra­phy, and di­rect scree­ning. It has the ca­pa­bi­li­ty to io­ni­ze both po­lar and non-po­lar sub­s­tances. In our App Note titled „Fast and Di­rect De­tec­tion of Per­fluo­ro­car­boxy­lic Acids (PFCA) with SICRIT®-MS“, you can learn more about the ap­pli­ca­ti­on of SICRIT in di­rect scree­ning.

The ver­sa­ti­li­ty of our ion source can con­tri­bu­te to the ex­plo­ra­ti­on of the­se „fo­re­ver che­mi­cals,“ pro­vi­ding la­bo­ra­to­ries with a ra­pid and ef­fi­ci­ent me­ans to ex­pand their ana­ly­ti­cal ca­pa­bi­li­ties.

Are you re­a­dy to rethink your lab? Cont­act us for more in­for­ma­ti­on!