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Frequently asked questions about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

FAQ created by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on 5 November 2019

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are industrial chemicals which are used in several industrial processes and consumer products, due to their special technical properties. This group of substances includes at least 4,000 different compounds. In animal experiments, some of them have been found to cause liver damage, reproductive toxicity, and to be potentially carcinogenic.

In the perfluoroalkyl substances sub-group, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are the most thoroughly studied compounds. Like all PFAS, these two compounds are not readily degradable in the environment, and are now detectable everywhere - in the environment, in the food chain, and in humans. In 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a reassessment of the health risks posed by PFOA and PFOS in food.

For the reassessment,   EFSA relied for the first time primarily on data from studies showing the correlation between the levels of PFOS/PFOA in the blood and changes in biological parameters which may eventually increase the occurrence rate of certain diseases among the population in the long term.

The use of PFOS has been heavily restricted already since 2006. A worldwide ban on the use of PFOA is expected to enter into force in 2020. This means that, inter alia, it will be forbidden to make and market products containing levels of PFOA, its salts or precursors exceeding a certain limit value.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has compiled a list of questions - and their answers - on the subject of PFAS.

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