Long-chain Perfluorocarboxylic Acids (PFCAs), their salts, and their precursors - information sheet

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  • The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation, called an ecological screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to the environment from PFCAs, their salts and their precursors. This assessment was completed in 2012.
  • Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to the environment. A substance may have hazardous properties; however, the risk to the environment may be low depending upon the level of exposure.
  • Long-chain PFCAs (C9-C20) were assessed for ecological risk as these were emerging chemicals of concern. Available data demonstrated that some long-chain PFCAs were bioaccumulative, persistent, subject to long-range transport, and had widespread and increasing concentrations in Arctic wildlife. 
  • The assessment focused on long-chain PFCAs, but also considered their precursors given similar use applications and their potential to degrade to long-chain PFCAs. While the assessment did not consider the additive effects of long-chain PFCAs and their precursors, it is recognized that the precursors contribute to the ultimate environmental loading of long-chain PFCAs. Precursors may also play a key role in the long-range transport and subsequent degradation to long-chain PFCAs in the Canadian Arctic.
  • As a result of the screening assessment, the Government concluded that long chain PFCAs, their salts and their precursors are harmful to the environment.

About these substances

  • Long-chain (C9-C20) perfluorocarboxylic acids, also known as PFCAs, are man-made chemicals.
  • According to information gathered by the Government, C9 PFCA was used for surfactant applications, and in the production of large molecules called fluorotelomers.
  • Long-chain PFCAs were rarely used intentionally in commercial products. However, precursors to long-chain PFCAs which were present in commercial products, such as fluorotelomer-based substances,  can degrade to long-chain PFCAs.

Ecological exposure

  • Although data was not available on the direct release of long-chain PFCAs to the Canadian environment, evidence suggested that their precursors were released to the environment where they may have been transported long distances and degraded to produce long-chain PFCAs.
  • Potential sources of long-chain PFCAs included the breakdown of their precursors during wastewater and sewage treatment processes, the oxidation of their precursors in the atmosphere, and the degradation of commercial products containing their precursors.

Key ecological effects (hazard)

  • Long-chain PFCAs and their salts are considered to have ecological effects of concern, such as reduced fertility over successive generations and estrogenic effects on fish, due to their persistence and their potential to accumulate in and cause harm to organisms.

Risk assessment outcome

  • It was determined that there is risk of harm to the environment from long-chain PFCAs and their salts based on a weight-of-evidence approach. Considerations included the persistence, bioaccumulation, widespread occurrence, temporal trends in some species (such as Canadian Arctic birds, terrestrial and marine mammals), long-range transport and concentrations of long-chain PFCAs in the environment and biota (including remote areas of Canada).
  • Additionally, long-chain PFCAs and their salts, meet the persistence criteria but not the bioaccumulation criteria as set out in the Persistence and Bioaccumulation Regulations of CEPA 1999. Nevertheless, the weight of evidence was sufficient to conclude that long-chain PFCAs and their salts bioaccumulate (the increase in concentrations of a substance in the tissues of organisms due to uptake from all sources, such as water and food) and biomagnify (the increasing concentration of a substance in the tissues of organisms at successively higher levels in a food chain) in terrestrial and marine mammals.
  • The Government published the Final Ecological Screening Assessment on Long-chain (C9-C20) Perfluorocarboxylic Acids, their Salts, and their Precursors on August 25, 2012.

Screening assessment conclusion

  • As a result of the final screening assessment, the Government concluded that long-chain PFCAs, their salts, and their precursors are entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.  

Preventive actions and reducing risk

Related information

  • These substances may be found in products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
  • Canadians who may be exposed to these substances in the workplace should consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws, and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
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