In January 2020, the Nordic Council of Ministers completed a study investigating the identity, production, and use of per- and polyfluoroalkylether substances (PFAEs). The substances form a differentiated sub-group among other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and are characterized by the ether-linkages between the perfluorocarbon moieties within the molecule (e.g. –CnF2n–O–CmF2m–). Except for a few well-known PFAEs such as GenX (CAS 62037-80-3) and ADONA (EC 480-310-4), very limited public information was found available to describe this diverse family of substances. Through review of 22 chemical inventories across the EU and 18 other countries, the study identified 394 PFAEs and assigned them to one of five sub-groups based on their structures: (i) perfluoropolyethers (PFPEs), (ii) fluoropolymers, (iii) perfluoroether non-polymers with unsaturated bonds, (iv) perfluoroether non-polymers with saturated bonds, and (v) side-chain perfluoroether polymers.
The CAS numbers for each of the identified substances were then used to collect further information from seven public chemicals databases. The authors found that over half of the PFAEs do not appear in any of the databases, and less than 5% are registered within REACH. Much of the information that was available was found to be either protected as confidential business information or too vague to understand the production quantities and exposures involved. The authors, however, discovered “a diverse and complex marketplace for PFAEs, from major producers to suppliers and downstream users.” PFAEs were revealed to be bought and used across a range of industries including aerospace and cosmetics.
The study concludes that this “lack of information undermines public efforts to protect the environment and the public from the risks associated with the production, use and disposal of these chemicals.” Many of the substances are thought to be produced or imported in small quantities in the EU, which may mean that they are not within the scope of current regulations and therefore do not exist in relevant databases. However, the authors argue that their combined impact “may still present a significant risk.” As a sub-group of PFAS, the authors find that PFAEs “merit further scrutiny, based on emerging evidence about the risks associated with some of the substances (such as GenX), their widespread use and their high persistence in the environment.”
Emma Davies (February 20, 2020). “Information lacking on ether PFASs, review finds.” Chemical Watch
Nordic Council of Ministers (February 24, 2020). “Per- and polyfluoroalkylether substances: identity, production and use.” (pdf)