Today’s PFAS: Enabling Life in the 21st Century

Today’s per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are well-studied chemistries with unique beneficial properties.  While consumers may not realize that they are working behind the scenes to enable life in the 21st century, modern PFAS are essential building blocks for many of the products we rely upon everyday.

Recently, PFAS have come under increasing scientific and regulatory scrutiny, largely because of concerns associated with certain older, “legacy” PFAS.  It is imperative that these concerns are addressed in a transparent and scientifically valid way that preserves, as much as possible, the many societal benefits that are derived from these essential chemistries. As these conversations continue, it’s important to keep in mind why PFAS were first introduced and how they are used to manufacture a wide range of products.

What are PFAS and how are they used today?

PFAS encompass a wide and diverse array of substances that are characterized by the carbon-fluorine (C-F) bond. Even though all PFAS share this strong C-F bond, the wide universe of PFAS includes substances with very different physical and chemical properties, risk and hazard profiles, and uses.

What are the benefits of today’s PFAS?

Today’s PFAS provide critical functionality in a wide range of applications.  From transportation to healthcare, pharmaceuticals to food processing, electronics to textiles and many others, modern life is enabled by these fluorinated chemistries. Two common groups of today’s PFAS include fluoropolymers and fluorotelomers.

Fluoropolymers’ properties include durability, heat and chemical resistance, non-adhesive, and unique electrical insulation, which enables their use in applications such as wire coatings, medical devices, and non-stick cookware. Important applications include:

  • Medical diagnostics and treatment: Fluoropolymers enable the function of medical equipment and devices such as MRI machines and pacemakers, catheters and stents.
  • Transportation Safety & Reliability: Fluoropolymers allow fuel-line components and electronics used in airplanes to function properly.
  • Durable Electronics: Fluoropolymers enable high frequency signal transmission and protect the integrity and functioning of circuit boards.

Fluorotelomers’ properties include dirt, oil, and water repellency, which are essential, for example, in the manufacturing of high-performance textiles.  Important applications include:

  • Health and Safety Gear: Fluorotelomers provide properties critical to medical garments that prevent the transmission of fluid-borne pathogens and allow first responder protective gear to maintain performance in extreme conditions.
  • Durable Household Goods: Fluorotelomers protect heavily used household items such as upholstery, making them easier to clean and prolonging their useful lives.

As seen in these examples, today’s PFAS play a critical role in many different sectors. FluoroCouncil member companies work continually to deliver best-in-class performance, while improving the environmental and safety profiles of these incredibly valuable materials.