Project Details Per and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the environment: Information for emerging economies on PFASs analyses in environmental media and their impacts on human health

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 December 2019
End Date:


The objective of this projects is to write a synthesis, based on critical evaluation of the current state of knowledge on per and polyfluroalkyl substances (PFASs), to distill learnings that can be beneficial to emerging economies.

PFASs in the environment has received global attention since 2000. Three compounds now have been (or in process of) listed on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). A large body of work has been conducted in the developed world especially in USA, Australia and European countries aimed at investigating PFASs in the environment. Human and Ecosystem health guidelines have been developed. Studies on environmental and human health (including epidemiological studies) have been carried out. This has however been confined to the developed world and little has been done in the emerging economies such as in Asia and Africa. The problem of PFASs in Asia is likely to be greater due to manufacturing of these compounds since early 2000s, when the manufacturing in USA stopped. The emerging economies needs guidance on analytical methods, understand fate and transport of PFASs and development of ecosystem and human health guidelines.


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a major environmental concern globally due to their widespread usage and persistence. They found widespread applications in industry due to their unique chemistry of having both hydrophilic and hydrophobic (surfactant-like) properties. However, concerns about these chemicals have been growing due to their long-term persistence in the environment, potential for bioaccumulation and toxicity to human and ecological health. Consequently, two PFASs (PFOS, PFOA have already been listed on the Stockholm Convention for POPs, whereas the third compo (PFHxS) is about to be listed. This means the emerging economies will have to respond to this issue in near future.

In 2001, when it was realized that PFASs are bioaccumulative, contrary to previous assessment, the manufacturers such as 3M and DuPont voluntarily withdrew their manufacturing of PFOS. At that time China and India took up the production of these chemicals and hence the problem had virtually shifted to emerging economies. The true extent of PFAS problem has not been recognized in the emerging economies and this may be a “sleeper” issue.

Since 2000 a number of studies have been carried out in USA including USEPA’s exposure study (2013-15) involving > 36000 samples which showed that drinking water of 6 million people in USA exceeded the Lifetime Health Advisory value of 70 ng/L. Australia had to respond to widespread contamination of PFASs in surface and ground waters from Defence facilities (Airforce bases) and elevated levels of PFASs in blood of population living in the vicinity. Ecosystem health guidelines have also been developed in Australia.

Based on the above summary, the emerging economies will need to address the PFAS issue in their country in near future. Hence, we propose a critical synthesis as learnings from the work in the developed world that can serve as a guidance for emerging economies. IUPAC is best positioned to take up this role, due to its global skill base as well as outreach in emerging economies. The Chemistry and the Environment Division (Div VI) has a strong track record of working with such economies in the environment space.

The synthesis will cover three interdisciplinary areas.
1. Review publications on current analytical techniques for environmental media (water and soils) and challenges associated with PFAS analyses (persistence in environment, matrix effects on detection and quantitation)
2. Review publications on health effects of PFAS both fundamental toxicology as well as human health effects of PFAS exposure arising from environmental media, and
3. A review of the current production of PFAS in emerging economies, current approved use of PFAS substance in developed economies, and banned (or proposed) uses of PFAS substances.

This is an interdivisional project and hence members from each division will assist in the production of the synthesis with help from the scientific community from around the world currently involved in PFAS research and regulations. The project will produce a publication based on a critical evaluation of the current knowledge on PFAS substances related to three overarching areas, namely:
1. analytical chemistry in environmental media,
2. human health effects from environmental exposure, and
3. PFAS management response by regulatory and policy agencies.

This review supported by multiple divisions of IUPAC will provide stakeholders much needed confidence that the recommendations are based upon the best available science.


Project announcement published in Chem Int April 2020, p. 29

Page last updated 30 Apr 2020