Quality Control and Testing
Dec 15, 2023
| 6 min read

PFAS Testing: Managing the Forever Impacts of Your Handy Non-Stick Pan 

What do raincoats, fast food packaging and non-stick cookware have in common? They all rely on chemical substances known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) for their key benefit, like repelling water or being non-sticky. But these superpowers all come at a hidden cost to consumers. Let’s take a closer look at the known risks of PFAS and why it’s so important to test for them.


This article is posted on our Science Snippets Blog  

"PFAS" Letters with Fried Egg on Non-Stick Frying Pan

What exactly are PFAS?

PFAS are human-made chemicals that have been around since the 1940s. For the chemistry fans: they are a family of more than 4,700 molecules that have stable carbon-fluorine bonds—the strongest of covalent bonds—along with varying carbon chain lengths. These chemical bonds take a lot of energy to break, which makes them extremely durable.

PFAS are primarily valued for their ability to resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water and that is why they find their way into so many consumer products. Here are a few familiar examples: 

  • Non-stick cookware: That easy-to-clean frying pan likely owes its slickness to PFAS
  • Food packaging: The reason your burger wrapper isn't a greasy mess
  • Water-repellent fabrics: Your jacket's PFAS might be working overtime to keep you dry in a downpour
  • Cleaning products: Some of those sprays and wipes contain PFAS to repel dirt and water
  • Firefighting foams: High-performance foams used to extinguish oil and gasoline fires often have PFAS

PFAS Forever Chemical life cycle
 


The flip side: environmental and health impacts

While PFAS help make life convenient, their resilience is a double-edged sword. They don't break down easily in the environment, earning them the nickname "forever chemicals". This durability might sound great at first, but it's not such good news when we consider their impact on our health and planet.

Since PFAS can remain in the environment for a very long time, they can build up in wildlife, leading to harmful effects on ecosystems. They also find their way into water supplies, which is worrying for all forms of life.

Humans can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated soil, water, air, or by using products made with these chemicals. The conversation around PFAS and health is ongoing, but there are red flags.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for example, have linked PFAS to adverse health outcomes, including reproductive and developmental effects, hormone irregularities, and even increased risks of some cancers.
 


Regulations around PFAS

Because of the potential risks, both the US and the EU have regulations in place concerning PFAS. In the US, the EPA has established health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, two types of PFAS, and is working on developing more comprehensive regulations. In total, the EPA database has more than 12,000 PFAS with confirmed structures.

Meanwhile, across the pond in the EU, they're a bit ahead of the game. The European Chemicals Agency uses a broader PFAS definition, and the EU has set out plans to phase out all non-essential uses of these chemicals by 2030. So, while the specifics differ, both regions are actively working to manage and reduce the risks associated with PFAS.


How is PFAS testing done?

In order to find PFAS contamination, you have to test for it. This is routine for some industries or applications. Take water as an example; clean water is a non-negotiable necessity for health, so routine testing is done to satisfy regulatory bodies. 

PFAS testing is indeed a complex process, usually reserved for specialized labs. In a typical workflow, first you need to collect the sample and extract the PFAS. Next, the extracted substances are analyzed using sophisticated equipment like liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Samples are deemed safe if the results fall below designated safety thresholds.  

But first, you need to make sure the data is good.
 


Common challenges in PFAS detection

Achieving reliable PFAS measurement can be hard. Cross-contamination is always a worry in PFAS testing as these chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment and even in certain lab equipment and supplies. 

Another challenge is the extraction process. Labs need to use specific extraction methods, like solid phase extraction or liquid-liquid extraction, to effectively isolate PFAS. Instruments used to perform the analysis also need proper calibration and reference samples. 

Using reliable contaminant-free lab essentials, including lab water, is one way to ensure accurate results. 


Ultrapure water is key in sample preparation 

So much of spectrometry analysis depends on sample quality, which is heavily influenced by the quality of lab water. Lab water systems and tubing can influence sample integrity by leaching chemicals, including PFAS. Sartorius’ Arium® lab water systems are a great source of ultrapure LC-MS grade water for preparing standards and can help keep contaminants (and ghost peaks) out of your data. 

The Arium® Comfort I UV system uses a multi-stage treatment process to reduce PFAS below the limit of detection, meeting the highest water quality standards, even in challenging scenarios. In one study, it effectively reduced PFAS content in both household potable water and highly contaminated solutions (≥ 4 ppb), as verified by EPA 1633 method and TOF analysis.

Sartorius has a full range of lab essentials for sample preparation. Keep learning about PFAS testing, regulations, and robust sample preparation essentials by checking out this neat infographic

Read Our PFAS Infographic


 

In this course, Sartorius conducted comprehensive testing on all our Arium® devices regarding the PFAS content in the reagent water. The results indicate that the PFAS content in the reagent water is below the limit of detection (ppt). You can find detailed information in our 'PFAS Certified' document here.

See PFAS Certificates

Related Content

Honeycomb illustration listing everyday products that contain PFAS.
Webinar

The Role of Sartorius’ Lab Water System in PFAS Detection

Explore PFAS, learn about their health and environmental impacts, and discover new ways to prevent water contamination with Arium® water systems.

Access Webinar
Infographic

PFAS – The  “Forever Chemicals”

PFAS concerns, regulations, sample preparation and sampling tips

Access Infographic
Application Note

The Role of Sartorius’ Lab Water System in PFAS Detection

Download this application note to learn how the Arium® Comfort I UV can be used to reduce PFAS contaminants in water.

Access Application Note

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