Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) in the Nordic environment

image of Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) in the Nordic environment

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are found in nearly all samples in a joint Nordic screening project, but the concentrations are below the reported toxicological threshold levels with a possible exception for the marine predating mammals. Other perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) were also commonly found. Since the chemicals of this group are very persistent, measures should be considered to ensure that PFAS will not turn into environmental problems in the future. These are some of the results from the screening project performed by the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Samples of rainwater, lake water, coastal water, sewage effluent, sewage sludge, landfill effluent, sediments, freshwater fish, marine fish, seal and whale were collected and analysed. Most of the samples were collected close to populated areas and possible sources (see map below), but remote areas were also covered. Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) make up a large group of chemicals that have been used in different industrial and consumer products since the 1950s. The substances are mainly used in fire fighting foams, protective coating, textiles, floor wax, polish and electronic industries. From this use the substances are likely to end up in waste dumps, sewage water and the general environment.



Discussion and recommendations

The first Nordic screening on fate and distribution of PFAS related residues in environmental samples confirmed that PFAS residues are widely present in the Nordic environment. The first overview indicates that sewage sludge and landfill effluents are contributing as important anthropogenic sources for the release of PFAS into the environment. Large amounts of PFAS related contaminants are, thereafter, deposited in sediment. Whether remobilisation from the sediments into the adjacent water column and the food web also is an important contribution remains still unknown at present. However, significant amounts of PFAS related chemicals mostly dominated by PFOS are accumulating in the marine and freshwater food web into the top predating organisms reaching surprisingly high concentration levels.


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