PFAS terminology decoded

17 September 2021

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published a report reviewing the terminology of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS are a large group of synthetic organofluorine chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s for use as surfactants and stain repellents. PFAS are persistent in the environment and are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals”. There is growing concern of the adverse impact arising from PFAS use on human health and the environment.

The report highlights a revised PFAS definition to comprehensively reflect the universe of PFASs and a comprehensive overview of the PFAS universe, practical guidance on how to use the PFAS terminology, a systematic approach to characterisation of PFASs based on molecular structural traits to assist stakeholders, including non-experts, in making their own categorisation based on their needs, and areas in relation to the PFAS terminology that warrant further development.

The UK Government has recently already announced that a UK REACH restriction will be introduced if evidence shows an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment from PFAS, and after a public consultation. The HSE and Environment Agency will review available evidence relating to the risk of PFAS and will consider how best to manage any identified risks.