Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

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Per - and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of over 4,700 human-made substances that are used in a wide range of products such as lubricants, cosmetics, surfactants, firefighting foams, non-stick cookware, food packaging materials, repellents (for dirt, water, and grease), and textiles (carpets, furniture, and clothing). New PFAS are continually being developed and notified to the Government of Canada.

Adverse environmental and health effects have been observed for well-studied PFAS [perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), long-chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (LC-PFCAs), and their salts and precursors] and they have been shown to pose a risk to the Canadian environment. In Canada, PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs (and their salts and precursors) are prohibited through regulations; however, scientific evidence to date indicates that the PFAS used to replace regulated PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs may also be associated with environmental and human health effects.

Notice of intent

The Government of Canada is considering activities that would address PFAS as a class rather than as individual substances or in smaller groups. Substance-specific information is lacking for most PFAS that are currently used. In addition, a traditional assessment and management approach is impractical due to the large number of PFAS that are commercially available and their diverse chemical structures. Addressing PFAS as a class of chemicals would reduce the chance of regrettable substitution, support more holistic research and monitoring programs, and provide an opportunity for a decrease of future environmental and human exposure to PFAS. A notice of intent to address the broad class of PFAS was published in the Canada Gazette, Part I: Vol. 155 No. 17 – April 24, 2021.

In the notice of intent, the Government committed to publish a state of PFAS report within 2 years.

Stakeholders and interested parties were invited to provide feedback on the notice of intent, and will have further opportunities to provide input on Government of Canada activities if a decision is made to address PFAS as a class.

State of PFAS report

In response to the commitment described in the notice of intent the Government of Canada has published a Draft State of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Report for a 60-day public comment. The related notice was published in the Canada Gazette, Part I: Vol. 157, No. 20 – May 20, 2023.

This draft report provides a qualitative assessment of the fate, sources, occurrence, and potential impacts of PFAS on the environment and human health. With the application of precautionary assumptions that are protective of human health and the environment when addressing gaps in information, the report provides the basis for a class-based approach to inform decision-making on PFAS in Canada. The report also proposes to conclude that PFAS as a class are harmful to human health and the environment.

A Risk Management Scope for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) was also published on May 20, 2023 for a 60-day public comment period.

Comments received on the draft report and risk management scope will be considered in the development of the final report.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also published a Supporting Document: Ecological State of the Science Report on Short-chain PFCAs, Short-chain PFSAs, and Long-chain PFSAs that provides a summary of environmental data that has become available on 3 subgroups of PFAS: short-chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (SC-PFCAs), short-chain perfluorosulfonic acids (SC-PFSAs), and long-chain perfluorosulfonic acids (LC-PFSAs). Some of these substances are being used as substitutes for regulated PFOS, PFOA, and LC-PFCAs.

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