Do PFAS Pollute Indoor Air? Chromatography Investigates
Sep 10 2021
The body of evidence against PFAS use is growing. But with a reputation for longevity, the ‘forever’ chemicals we’re still using could continue to have an impact for years, decades and even centuries to come. Having already made their way into the environment, they’re now being found in more and more places you might not expect – including the air we breathe.
What are PFAS?
Usually abbreviated as PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a family of man-made chemicals which are used for a wide variety of applications – from fire-retardant, oil-repellent and water-resistant products to non-stick cookware and furniture.
Comprising almost 5,000 synthetic chemicals, PFAS have been in use since the 1940s. Crucially, they won’t be out of the environment any time soon. Thanks to their molecular bonds which can take thousands of years to degrade, PFAS have become known as ‘forever chemicals’.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the same family of chemicals has also been linked to a number of health complications, including:
- Reduced fertility
- Increased cholesterol
- Increased risk of cancer
- Impaired immunity
- Hormone interference
- Growth, learning and development impacts for children
Exposure to PFAS can occur when using any of the products containing them. That includes non-stick cookware and certain food packaging, which can both contaminate food. Another big area of concern is contaminated drinking water, with PFAS hard to filter out once they’re released into bodies of water.
However, more recently, they’ve even been found in the air we breathe. Researchers from the University of Rhode Island and Green Science Policy Institute tested this idea using polyethylene sheets as a passive detection tool to gather samples in various indoor environments.
Those sheets were then analysed using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry – a method discussed in more depth in the article ‘Unique Separation of Mint Essential Oils by Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry Using Two Different Capillary Phases: Bonded Polyethylene Glycol and a Novel Ionic Liquid Phase’.
Something in the air…
The results, cited in the Guardian, showed that PFAS had been found in the air inside 17 of 20 tested locations, including offices, laboratories and university classrooms. However, perhaps most concerning was the exposure detected at a nursery or ‘kindergarten’ classroom.
Concentrations of PFAS in the air, carpets and dust were closely related, suggesting that the latter two are the source of air exposure. However, it still means air is the biggest risk when it comes to actual exposure to humans, with people spending the majority of their time and inhaling plenty of air within these indoor environments.
With children thought to be more at risk of PFAS exposure – due to their developing bodies and immune systems – it’s certainly an area that will need to be addressed going forward.
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