PFAS and a bad hair day

PFAS contaminationA growing area of Environmental contamination is PFAS contamination. PFAS are per and poly fluoro alkyl substances, a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including in the manufacture of nonstick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and in some types of fire-fighting foam (see government fact sheet here ). The firefighting foams with PFAS are still widely used as they can be more effective than non-PFAS fire fighting foams.

Thus PFAS is something of an umbrella name for a group of chemicals, unfortunately, some of which have been found to be associated with harm. The chemicals stay in the environment for a very long time, but can also break down resulting in different types of PFAS that may also be toxic.

In the last few years, PFAS has made the news for all the wrong reasons, particularly in and around some defence bases and airports, firefighting training grounds due to the use of firefighting foams. These foaming chemicals when used in large quantities can end up as contaminants in waterways and eventually the groundwater. There are significant health and environmental concerns arising from some PFAS contaminants. PFAS are also found in many everyday items (many of which have now been banned from containing PFAS, but the chemicals stay in the environment for a very long time).

Our challenge as environmental scientists is to accurately measure what are often quite minute concentrations of these chemicals. When quantities are small we have to be very careful about cross-contamination. As some PFAS compounds have been found in many personal hygiene products ranging from shampoos to shaving creams and other products that use surfactants it is a possible source of sampling error for us.

While many sunscreens and conditioners may be PFAS-free, makeup, hairspray, shampoos and conditioners should be avoided during and before sampling for PFAS analysis unless there is proof they are PFAS free. Oh and don't forget to avoid shaving gel!

So if you see us out on your site sampling and testing for PFAS  and looking like we are having a bad hair day, you’ll know it's because we are maintaining the strictest of standards for your benefit!


Further reading

For further reading, here is some information we can across in our professional development activities.


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