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Three member companies of the American Chemistry Council’s Performance Fluoropolymer Partnership (PFP) published a new paper that provides important context and clarity on the number of commercially relevant per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) compounds that exist today. The companies, all of which are major global manufacturers of PFAS, collaborated on the report to show that the number of PFAS currently in commerce is in the hundreds, not the thousands as has been claimed in some instances.

The paper was developed by manufacturers AGC Inc., the Chemours Company, and Daikin America, Inc. in response to a 2018 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/United Nations Environment Programme (OECD/UNEP) that compiled a list of 4,730 PFAS compounds. However, the authors of this new paper point out that the OECD/UNEP list is too vast and inappropriately includes substances that were produced in miniscule amounts for research purposes, that were never commercialized, that have been phased out of production, or are regulated by other authorities (e.g. pesticides; pharmaceuticals, refrigerants).

Using a “bottom-up” survey compilation that better reflects actual compounds in commerce, the study identified and classified 256 commercially relevant PFAS as of December 2019 that were defined by the three company participants. The authors stated that while this number does not reflect the totality of PFAS around the world, it does demonstrate that the number of commercially relevant PFAS is far less than that in the OECD/UNEP report, and they encourage other PFAS manufacturers to take similar inventories of their own compounds.

“This paper is significant because some authorities claim that attempting to regulate many thousands of different substances would be unmanageable and could only be done by an unscientific ‘one size fits all’ regulatory approach,” said PFP Executive Director Jay West. “However, our research indicates that the number of commercially relevant PFAS in the market today numbers in more likely in the hundreds, which in our opinion would not present an unmanageable situation for regulatory authorities.“

The paper, titled Identification and Classification of Commercially Relevant Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), was published on May 14, 2021, in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, which is published by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Assessment.

“Hundreds of substances can be appropriately categorized and grouped for risk assessment,” the authors write in their report. “It works for the organic chemical universe, and it can and should similarly be applied for the universe of fluorinated organic substances based on the composition and properties of the substances and their use(s).”

The report also includes a proposal for categorizing the world of commercially relevant PFAS into five sub-classes, Non-Polymer Perfluoroalkyl, Non-Polymer Polyfluoroalkyl, Fluoropolymers, Perfluoropolyether Polymers, and Side-chain Fluorinated Polymers, which possess very different physical-chemical properties and toxicological profiles.

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