2.5 PFAS Uses
PFAS have been produced on a commercial scale since the 1950s, and production continues today. The unique physical and chemical properties of PFAS impart oil, water, stain, and soil repellency, chemical and temperature resistance, friction reduction, and surfactant properties to a wide range of products, some of which are considered essential to health, safety, or modern life (Glüge et al. 2020). Glüge et al. (2020) categorized PFAS by uses according to industry application and practical use and identified more than 200 uses for more than 1,400 individual PFAS.
Table 2-5 provides a general (not exhaustive) introduction to some of the uses of PFAS chemistries that are, or have been, marketed or used (3M Company 1999; Poulsen et al. 2005; OECD 2006; Washington State Department of Ecology 2012; OECD 2011; OECD 2013; Fujii, Harada, and Koizumi 2013; OECD 2015; Performance Fluoropolymer Partnership 2021; Henry et al. 2018). The specific applications for all PFAS are not well documented in the public realm. For example, of the 2,000 PFAS identified in a 2015 study, only about half had an associated listed use (KEMI 2015). Further discussion of select uses that may be associated with potentially significant environmental releases are provided in Section 2.6.
As discussed in Section 18.104.22.168, most polymer PFAS are considered to pose relatively less risk to human health and the environment than some nonpolymer PFAS. For this reason, Table 2-5 distinguishes between these two major classes of PFAS and where they are used in various industries and products. Glüge et al. (2020) provided a detailed listing of PFAS by use category/subcategory, function, and properties; however, it is not organized according to polymer versus nonpolymer PFAS used in these instances.
The major industries and applications summarized in the table are described in more detail in Section 2.6.1.
Table 2-5. Sample historic and current uses of PFAS
|Industry/Application||PFAS Type||Documented Use and Examples of Some PFAS|
|Aviation and Aerospace||Polymer||Mechanical components made of fluoropolymers (such as PTFE and PFA tubing, piping, seals, gaskets, cables, and insulators)|
|Nonpolymers||Hydraulic fluid additives made from PFSA salts (such as PFOS at about 0.1%) to prevent evaporation, fires, and corrosion|
|Automotive||Polymer||Mechanical components made of fluoropolymers, including wiring and cable, fuel delivery tubing, seals, bearings, gaskets and lubricants, and some polymer coatings on carpets|
|Nonpolymers||Surface treatment for textiles, upholsteries, carpets, leather and exterior surfaces|
|Biocides (Herbicides and Pesticides)||Polymer||None reported|
|Nonpolymers||Active ingredients such as short-chain sulfonamides in plant growth regulators and herbicides, and EtFOSA (sulfluramid) in ant and termite baits; inert enhancing ingredients in pesticides; PFPAs and PFPiAs as anti-foaming agents in solutions|
|Building and Construction||Polymer||Fluoropolymer membranes and coatings (such as PTFE, PVDF, and/or side-chain fluorinated polymers) in architectural materials (like fabrics, roofing membranes, metals, stone, tiles, concrete, radomes); adhesives, seals, caulks; additives in paints (for example, low- and no-VOC latex paints), varnishes, dyes, stains, sealants; surface treatment agent and laminates for conserving landmarks|
|Nonpolymers||Additives in paints, coatings, and surface treatments (PASF- and fluorotelomer-based compounds, ammonium salt of PFHxA)|
|Cable and Wiring||Polymer||Coatings and jacketings made of fluoropolymers (such as PTFE and PVDF) for weathering, flame, and soil resistance, with cables used in many applications, including communication facilities, antennae, and computer networks|
|Cosmetics/Personal Care Products||Polymer||Dental floss and micro powders used in creams and lotions.|
|Nonpolymers||Cosmetics, shampoos, nail polish, eye makeup, denture cleaners|
|Electronics||Polymer||Fluoropolymers (such as PVDF and PTFE) used in insulators, solder sleeves, printed circuit boards, cell phones, computers, speakers, and transducers|
|Nonpolymers||Flame retardants for polycarbonate resin (such as the potassium salt of PFBS)|
|Energy||Polymer||Fluoropolymer films (such as FEP, PVDF) to cover solar panel collectors, electrolyte fuel cells, PTFE expansion joint materials for power plants|
|Nonpolymers||Fuel cell and battery electrolyte (such as the lithium salt of PFAAs)|
|Firefighting/Safety||Polymer||Fluoropolymers used in firefighting equipment and protective clothing (such as those woven with PTFE). Other polymer coatings using side-chain fluorinated polymers)|
|Nonpolymers||Coatings and materials used as water repellents and some Class B foam (may contain PFCAs, PFSAs, and fluorotelomer-based derivatives), vapor suppression for flammable liquids (for example, gasoline storage)|
|Food Processing||Polymer||Fluoropolymer fabrication materials (such as PTFE) (liners for trays, ovens, grills)|
|Nonpolymers||May be used as coatings on food packaging|
|Household Products||Polymer||Nonstick coatings (fluoropolymers such as PTFE); aftermarket treatment for textiles, upholsteries, carpets, and leather (such as FT-based side-chain fluorinated polymers)|
|Nonpolymers||Aftermarket treatment for textiles, upholsteries, carpets, and leather (such as PASFs; floor polishes (such as the ammonium salt of PFDA), coatings, and floor finishes (PFPAs and PFPiAs) and cleaning agents and alkaline cleaners; automobile waxes; may include PFAAs, PASF- and fluorotelomer-based derivatives|
|Medical Products||Polymer||Fluoropolymers used in surgical patches, cardiovascular grafts, raw materials for human body implants (such as catheters, stents, needles, and other) given biocompatibility and extremely low coefficient of friction|
|Nonpolymers||X-ray film, stain- and water-repellent protective medical fabrics (like surgical drapes and gowns) created from PASF- or fluorotelomer-based (meth)acrylate polymers and polyurethanes|
|Metal Plating||Polymer||None reported|
|Nonpolymers||Wetting agent, mist suppression for harmful vapors, and surfactants (may include potassium, lithium, diethanolamine and ammonium salts of PFOS or 6:2 FTS)|
|Oil Production||Polymer||Lining of gas pipes|
|Nonpolymers||Marketed for and potential instances of use in oil well production|
|Nonpolymers||Instances of surfactants used in ore mining flotation|
|Paper and Packaging||Polymer||Oil and grease and water repellent to paper, paperboard, molded pulp products (including food contact materials), and LDPE bags; examples include side-chain fluorinated polymers in which the PASF- or fluorotelomer-based alcohols or their acrylate or methacrylate esters are attached on side chains|
|Nonpolymers||Phosphate ester salts (esterification of PASF or FT-based alcohols with phosphoric acid; PFPEs|
|PFAS Production||Polymer||Not applicable|
|Nonpolymers||Emulsion polymerization processing aids for fluoropolymers (such as PTFE, FEP, PFA, PVDF), (co)monomer of side-chain fluorinated polymers; (co)monomer of fluoropolymers and to make fluoroelastomers; may use salts of long-chain PFCAs (such as PFOA and PFNA), salts of short-chain PFCAs (such as PFHxA), or PFECAs|
|Photolithography & Semiconductor||Polymer||Equipment raw materials (such as PFA) for molded wafer baskets to handle corrosive liquids and gases, use as fluids in mechanical vacuum pumps|
|Nonpolymers||Photolithography (such as using PFOS) in manufacture of semiconductor chips|
|Textiles (Upholstery, Carpets), Leather, and Apparel||Polymer||Fluoropolymers (such as PTFE) are used in the construction of outdoor gear, clothing, and housewares; side-chain fluorinated polymers (such as PASF- or fluorotelomer-based (meth)acrylate polymers and -polyurethanes) may be used in oil- and water-repellent and stain release finishing and treatment coatings|
|Nonpolymers||PFOA-based chromium treatment for paper and leather. Nonpolymer coatings used to treat textiles to provide oil- and water- repellent and stain release finishes|
Information presented in this table captures potential instances of use but is not intended to indicate universal use. In addition, the table is not exhaustive of PFAS use in various industries.
Updated June 2022.