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Understanding PFAS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as "forever chemicals," have gained significant attention in recent years due to their persistence in the environment and potential adverse health effects.

03 November 2023 | 4 min read
Marco Lattughi
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Due to their exceptional resistance to heat, water, and oil, these man-made chemicals have been widely used in various industries since the 1940’s, However, the long-lasting nature of PFAS poses serious concerns for both industries and to human health.

One of the key issues with PFAS is their resistance to degradation, leading to their persistence in the environment. This has caused widespread contamination of soil, water, and wildlife, resulting in a persistent global presence of PFAS in a variety of ecosystems.

Sources of PFAS

What are the health effects of PFAS?

PFAS can enter the human body through various routes, including ingestion of contaminated food and water, inhalation of air near industrial sites, and absorption through the skin. These chemicals have been detected in the blood of the general population worldwide, indicating a widespread exposure.

Research on the effects of PFAS exposure is ongoing, but there is increasing evidence linking these chemicals to various health issues. Studies have suggested a potential correlation between PFAS exposure and increased cholesterol levels, thyroid disease, impaired immune function, decreased fertility, and certain types of cancer, such as kidney and testicular cancer. The exact mechanisms behind these health effects are still being investigated, but the potential risks have raised concerns among regulatory agencies and communities worldwide.

Modern urban wastewater treatment plant

How our expertise makes an impact

The UK Drinking Water Inspectorate requires that all drinking water is monitored for a list of 47 PFAS compounds in order to gather further information on their levels and prevalence in UK supplies.

RPS has developed a targeted method to detect 54 PFAS compounds in one run to assist water companies and private supplies to meet this new regulatory requirement and to make informed decision regarding their water management strategies. 

We are UKAS accredited for 48 of these PFAS compounds at sub-nanogram levels in ground water, surface water, drinking water (non-regulatory), untreated sewage and treated sewage effluent. With our UKAS accreditation, we are equipped to delve deeper into understanding and monitoring these compounds, ensuring the safety of our environment and communities.

The ability to analyse PFAS compounds at sub-nanogram levels signifies a significant advancement in our testing capabilities. At RPS, we are committed to staying at the forefront of scientific advancements. This accreditation reflects our dedication to delivering accurate and reliable results to our clients. It also strengthens our position as a trusted partner in environmental monitoring and assessment.

How we’re getting better in supporting the management of PFAS.

RPS is proud to have been awarded a recent grant of extension to scope with UKAS for a larger range of PFAS compounds in a variety of matrices including groundwater, surface, water, drinking water, raw sewage and treated effluent. We have also been granted the following accreditation in similar matrices to support the requirements of the water framework directive, current and proposed EQS limits and how they impact on water reuse.

  • Bisphenol A 
  • Bisphenol F
  • Bisphenol S
  • Glyphosate
  • AMPA
  • DEHP
  • Nonylphenol Technical
  • 4-n-Octylphenol
  • 4-t-Octylphenol

This backs up our existing accreditation for Tributyltin, Triclosan, HBCDD and a variety of other key pollutants and endocrine disruptors. With this new accreditation, RPS can continue and go beyond its mission to protect and preserve our precious water resources and help create a more sustainable future for everyone.