Perfluorooctane sulfonate in the environment

Environmental Monitoring and Surveillance in Support of the Chemicals Management Plan

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Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a synthetic substance belonging to a larger class of organic fluorochemicals that are partially or completely saturated with fluorine. PFOS and its precursors can be commonly used as water, oil, soil and grease repellents for paper and packaging, carpets, and fabrics, as well as in aqueous film-forming foam to fight fuel fires and in specialized industrial applications. These substances can be released into the environment both directly and indirectly (through degradation of its precursors) during manufacture, use and/or disposal of products containing them. PFOS is exceptionally persistent and subject to long-range transport, and is ubiquitous in the environment. It is of ecological concern, given this widespread occurrence, its bioaccumulation, and developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity and hepatotoxicity in animals. The use of PFOS and its precursors in Canada is limited to specific products and niche applications, which are exempt from the prohibition on PFOS put in place through the Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, its Salts and Certain Other Compounds Regulations published in June 2008. However, widespread global use since the 1950s has led to its ubiquitous presence in the Canadian environment. In order to understand the current risks posed by PFOS, the Government of Canada has been monitoring it in the environment and in certain waste streams across Canada. This fact sheet summarizes the monitoring programs for PFOS and provides information on its spatial and temporal distribution in Canada from 1979 to 2011, and compares measured PFOS concentrations to draft Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines.

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