Fluorinated Chemicals | Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Fluorinated Chemicals

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as PFAS or Fluorotechnology, are a diverse group of chemistries characterized by the strong bond between fluorine and carbon. Because of this strong bond, PFAS provides products with strength, durability, stability and resilience – characteristics critical to many products industry and consumers rely on.

PFAS include a variety of different chemicals with different properties and characteristics. Therefore, the hazard and risk profiles of various PFAS are different.

Fluoropolymers

One key type of PFAS in use today is fluoropolymers, a type of specialty material. Because of their physical characteristics, fluoropolymers are not toxic or water soluble. They provide products with a unique combination of attributes—durability, heat and chemical resistance and superior dielectric properties—that allow them to perform under the toughest conditions.

Fluorotelomers

Another major type of PFAS in use today is C6 fluorotelomers, which are well-studied and meet relevant regulatory standards for the protection of human health and the environment. C6 fluorotelomer-based products are versatile chemistries with wetting and spreading features, as well as unique properties that repel water, oil and stains.

Uses & Benefits

When fluorine atoms bond with carbon atoms, they create a highly stable chemical. This stability is what gives perfluorinated chemicals their distinct properties, providing strength, resilience and durability to a variety of products.

Perfluorinated chemicals have a long history of delivering outstanding performance in a wide variety of challenging applications.

Key uses of fluoropolymers include:

  • Automotive: Gaskets, rings, valves and hoses in the fuel system; wiring and circuit boards; pull cables; shock absorbers and bushings; electric vehicle batteries
  • Aerospace (military and civilian): High performance navigation and communication antennae; lubricants for wing flap mechanisms and landing gear; fuel-oxygen separation systems
  • Electronics: Ultra-low contamination semiconductor manufacturing; wafer etching; chemical piping and storage
  • Medical/First Responder: Surgically implanted medical devices (e.g. stents); COVID testing equipment and respirator tubing; catheters and guide wires

Key examples of C6 fluorotelomer products include:

  • Woven medical textiles
  • High-performance air and liquid filtration and separation media
  • Nonwoven membranes for water filtration
  • Outdoor technical textile applications
  • Semiconductor production
  • Durable Adhesives, sealants and caulks
  • Long-lasting Paints and coatings
  • fluorinated firefighting foams

Safety Information

All PFAS chemistries are not the same. They have a wide variety of properties, uses and health and safety profiles. In the United States, Europe and Japan, manufacturers have phased out the use of PFOA, PFOS and related long-chain chemistries.

PFAS products in use today have had their safety confirmed by regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), based on a robust body of scientific data. Similar conclusions have been reached by multiple regulatory bodies globally.

Fluoropolymers are large, stable, inert polymeric molecules. Fluoropolymers have well-established safety profiles and meet criteria used by chemical regulatory experts around the world to identify polymers of low concern for potential risk to human health or the environment. .

Polymeric, high molecular weight fluoropolymers are too large to cross biological membranes and therefore present little potential for human or environmental exposure. Fluoropolymers are not water soluble and as a result are not found in sources of drinking water. Importantly, fluoropolymers cannot transform to legacy PFAS, like PFOA and PFOS, in the environment.

C6 fluorotelomer-based products have been thoroughly reviewed by regulators prior to introduction into commerce, are subject to ongoing review and are supported by a robust body of rigorous scientific health and safety data.

This assessment has also included review of potential breakdown (degradation) products. As reflected in the published scientific literature, studies have found that one of the primary potential breakdown products, perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA or C6 acid), does not cause cancer (NTP 2018; Klaunig et al. 2015; Loveless et al. 2009); does not disrupt endocrine (hormone) activity (Borghoff et al. 2018); does not cause reproductive or developmental harm (Loveless et al. 2009; Iwai et al. 2019, Iwai and Hoberman 2014); does not build up in the human body and does not become concentrated in the bodies of living organisms (Chengelis et al. 2009b; Iwai and Hoberman 2014; Russell et al. 2013, 2015; Nilsson et al. 2010, 2013; Fujii et al. 2015; Guruge et al. 2016; Gannon et al. 2011, 2016).

Answering Questions

Why are PFAS used in consumer products?

PFAS provide a wide range of benefits in consumer products, including improved safety, durability and fuel-efficiency in applications like cars and airplanes, buildings and electronics. Certain types of advanced semiconductors, tubing, piping and fuel-delivery systems used in the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, automotive and aerospace industries are made with PFAS. PFAS are also used to give products enhanced surface properties, such as water, oil and stain resistance.

What are PFOA and PFOS?

PFOA had been used as a processing aid in the manufacture of certain fluoropolymers. In the U.S., EU and Japan manufacturers have phased out the use of PFOA and have developed alternative processing aids or new production processes that do not require processing aids. In fact, in 2006, eight major manufacturers voluntarily joined the EPA’s PFOA Stewardship Program, which included a commitment to cease the manufacture and use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals and also an agreement for new PFAS chemistry to undergo enhanced regulatory review before being permitted on the market. 

PFOS was used as a surfactant in fabric protectants, aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), and semiconductor manufacture until production ceased in the United States in the early 2000s.

What is the safety profile of fluorinated chemicals?

As noted in the “Safety Information” section, all PFAS are not the same. Different types of PFAS have different properties, and thus different health and environmental profiles.

PFAS products in use today have had their safety confirmed by regulators, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), based on a robust body of scientific data. Similar conclusions have been reached by multiple regulatory bodies globally.

Fluoropolymers are large, stable, inert polymeric molecules. Fluoropolymers have well-established safety profiles and meet criteria used by chemical regulatory experts around the world to identify polymers of low concern for potential risk to human health or the environment. 

Polymeric, high molecular weight fluoropolymers are too large to cross biological membranes and therefore present little potential for human or environmental exposure. Fluoropolymers are not water soluble and as a result are not found in sources of drinking water. Importantly, fluoropolymers are not the same as PFOA or PFOS or other long-chain PFAS, nor can they transform to those substances in the environment.