Potentially environmentally sounder alternatives to PFOS compounds and PFOA
Perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), and a number of related perfluorinated compounds (perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)) are used in numerous industrial and consumer products. These compounds have been recognized as hazardous to health and environment and give rise to increasing concern.
The example is based on a report from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), evaluating whether suitable less hazardous alternatives can be found.
The compouns discussed in the report are based on telomers, silicone, aliphatic alcohols and acrylates. The compounds are discussed as grups and not as single products.
The most common types of compounds used:
Silicone based compounds
Consult the report for further details on each alternative.
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is toxic to environment and reproduction and suspected of causing cancer. It holds the hazard statements H302, H332, H351, H360D, H362, H372, H410. PFOS is listed in the Substance Database according to SUBSPORT Screening Criteria
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is severely corrosive and holds the hazard statement H314.
The alternatives listed in the report might hold disadvantageous properties such as being environmentally persistent (telomers) or potentially damaging to health. Further research on alternatives to PFOS, PFOA and most of the alternatives mentioned in the report are recommended, although Danish EPA acknowledges the alternatives as safer than PFOS and PFOA.
The project was initiated by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, as a part of the Program for Cleaner Products, Area 1.7 Collection of knowledge and mapping of alternatives to problematic substances. The report contains the newest information about the properties, uses and occurrences of PFOS, PFOA and related polyfluorinated compounds. In addition, a search for and a preliminary assessment of possible alternatives to these types of chemicals were done. The report focuses mainly on the Danish situation but may also be a contribution to the PFOS/PFOA discussion at European level.
Today the largest use areas of PFOS-based compounds seem to be:
Cleaning agents for glass cleaning
Waxes and floor polishes
Manufacturing of semiconductors
Metal surface treatment
PFOS and a range of related perfluorinated compounds are used in numerous industrial products and consumer products because of their special chemical properties, for instance the ability to repel both water and oils.
PFOA is used as a processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers. PFOA is a well-documented contaminant in PFOS-related chemicals and fluorotelomers and may be found as an impurity in products containing PFOS-related chemicals. The most important of the above use areas for PFOS-related compounds is from an environmental perspective the use as surfactant in waxes, and floor polish. In this area only some substitution has been carried out, whereas a more substantial substitution has taken place within the cleaning agent area. The widespread use of the products results in a widespread emission to the environment of these substances.
Impregnation products, fire-fighting foams, the photographic industry and hydraulic oils within the airplane industry are still use areas that contribute to the total PFOS/PFOA concentration in the environment as for these uses predominantly seem to include fluorotelomers or PFAS-compounds with shorter chain length (like perfluorobutane sulfonate-PFBS) as alternatives to the former PFOS-compounds. However, the photographic industry does not seem to be the biggest problem, as this industry represents a smaller use area, and as the PFAS compounds are not a part of the final products. No information has been found on the size of the hydraulic oil use area. However, this area is not expected to be that large.
Fire-fighting foams represent the area with the largest risk of a huge accidental leak directly to the environment. These foams are primarily used for oil-gasoline related fires at airports, air bases, offshore oil platforms, oil refineries and oil storage tanks at harbors. Use of fire-fighting foams to fight large fires and accidental spills may cause considerable local, persistent contamination of ground and surface waters. A shift to the non-fluorinated training foams, which some organizations are beginning to make, is therefore a way forward to avoid unnecessary emissions to the environment of the fluorinated compounds.
The use of impregnation agents to protect domestic products such as clothes and carpets may be one of the most important exposure ways for the human population. Measurements have confirmed that PFOA and PFOS can be found in vacuum cleaner dust in private households. The most important human exposure may be through inhalation of air and the dust in private homes and offices. Impregnation of textiles, leather and carpets. The largest use area in Denmark (16-30%). PFOS-related substances may have been phased out (at least in UK and Sweden). Used alternatives: Other highly fluorinated compounds like fluorotelomers and PFBS. Other alternatives are silicone based products. Impregnation of paper and cardboard. Major use in Denmark (15-28%). PFOS and other PFAS-related substances may be going out of use (at least in Canada, UK, Norway and Sweden). However Dupont states that they sell telomer products for use in this application area. Used alternatives: Fluorotelomer-based substances.
Large use area in Denmark (8%). PFOS and other PFAS (Perfluorinated Alkylated) -related substances have gone out of use (at least in UK and Norway). In spray products for glass-cleaning PFAS-related substances are still in use. Used alternatives: none identified. Other alternatives: Experiences from paint/varnish area might be used.
Waxes and floor polishes.
PFOS-related substances are still used. Only some substitution has been carried out. Used alternatives: Fluorinated polyethers, C4-polyfluorinated compounds, telomer-based substances. Other alternatives: acrylates.
Former major use area in Denmark (18-25%). Substitution has been carried out. PFOS-related substances are no longer used, but PFAS-related compounds are used as well as other alternatives. Used alternatives: other highly fluorinated compounds like PFBS, propylated aromatics, aliphatic alcohols, silicone surfactants, sulfosuccinates, telomer-based substances. Other alternatives: fluorinated polyethers, polyether-modified polydimethyl siloxane.
Although several compound groups have been identified as possible alternatives to PFOS and PFOA, many of them have not yet been fully evaluated and might therefore hold disadvantageous properties and in relation to environment and health. Further research is therefore highly recommended into the biological impact of these compound groups, as well as novel processing technologies that can serve as potential substitutes or significantly reduce the use of poly-fluorinated compounds.
The CAS no. and other relevant information on specific compounds only discussed as groups in this report are known to the Danish EPA.
Type of information supplier
Miljøstyrelsen (Danish EPA)
1401 København K
Danish EPA / MiljøstyrelseType of publication and availability
“More environmentally friendly alternatives to PFOS-compounds and PFOA.”
Environmental Project no. 1013, 2005,
Danish Ministry of the Environment,
Environmental Protection Agency.
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