Something’s in the Water: Tackle Your PFAS Analysis

Aug 15, 2018 | Blogs, Environmental / Industrial | 0 comments

Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) residues could be dangerous. These chemicals have been linked to a variety of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer. In recognition of these potential risks, these water contaminants are making public headlines as well as becoming core topics for reports, and scientific studies.

What are PFAS’? PFAS are unique chemicals that repel both oil and water; this, among other properties, makes them useful in a variety of applications. Globally, there are more than 3000 products that either once used or still use PFAS3. Common examples include food packaging, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, non-stick kitchenware, paints, adhesives, electronics, personal care products, and firefighting foams1. However, there is only a limited amount of information on the extent of PFAS usage as well as how much has accumulated in the environment and made their way into our drinking water systems2.

These substances are mixtures of humanmade fluoropolymers containing carbon-fluorine monomers1. Perfluorinated compounds are those in which all hydrogen atoms have been replaced by fluorine1,4. It is the stability of the C-F bonds which prevents these compounds from naturally decomposing in the environment and makes them highly resistant to acids, bases, oxidants, and heat. Whereas, the term ‘polyfluorinated’ applies to chemicals where not all the hydrogens on the carbons of the molecule are replaced by fluorine1,4. Per- and polyfluorinated substances represent a compound class of potentially hundreds of chemicals of varying chemical structures and behaviors.

But how is it getting into our drinking water? Although there is a lack of conclusive data to pinpoint the exact source, there are researchers who suggest that extensive exposure to PFAS in water is partly from firefighting foams and sprays used in training simulations by the military and airport workers.

So, what does this all mean for public health? Health effects are widely debated, though there are many studies that link PFAS exposure to a variety of health problems.For that reason, regulators such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set “Health Advisory” levels of PFOA and PFOS.

Drinking water supplies for 6 million U.S. residents exceed U.S. EPA’s lifetime health advisory (70 ng/L) for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS)4. Additionally, the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported PFASs to be present in 97% of individuals4,6. Exposure to PFAS’ has been linked to cancer, elevated cholesterol, obesity, immune suppression, and endocrine disruption in humans4. The overwhelming presence of PFAS’ in drinking water systems and humans has motivated both the regulatory and academic communities to look beyond the occurrence of the most notorious PFAS7.

What are the current regulations? The U.S. EPA advisory level is 70 ng/L of PFOA and PFOS combined in drinking water, yet some studies suggest this level may be 100-fold too high5. This new research has influenced some states, like Vermont, to impose or suggest lower acceptable limits. In 2016, Vermont adopted an advisory level legal limit of 20 ng/L for both PFOS and PFOA with other states like Minnesota, New Jersey, and Michigan following suit with their own levels. While water system operators take appropriate steps and suggested PFAS concentrations continue to decrease, there is still a need for sensitive and robust analytical methods to detect and measure PFAS in such systems.

Where can SCIEX help? To help you with your drinking water analysis, we have developed several protocols and tools to aid in PFAS quantification and screening in drinking water.

Fill out the form on the right to download an info kit, which will give you access to:

  • Technical Note: A robust 10-minute method to analyze 14 PFAS’ in drinking water within the EPA Method 537.1 guidelines
  • Technical Note: An accurate quantitation method to trace PFAS levels of approximately 1-10 ng/L
  • Verified MS/MS Library: Browse through an extensive spectral library of common fluorochemicals and their metabolites

Download your info kit today and let’s start helping the public regain confidence in our drinking water.


  1. Richardson, S.D., Ternes, T.A., 2018. Water Analysis: Emerging Contaminants and Current Issues. Anal. Chem. 90, 398–428.
  2. Wang, Z., Dewitt, J.C., Higgins, C.P., Cousins, I.T., 2017. A Never-Ending Story of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)? Environ. Sci. Technol. 51, 2508–2518.
  3. Schaider, L.A., Balan, S.A., Blum, A, Andrews, D.Q., Strynar, M.J., Dickinson, M.E., Lunderberg, D.M., Lang, J.R., Peaslee, G.F., 2017. Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2017, 4, 105−111. https://
  4. Richardson, S.D., Ternes, T.A., 2018. Water Analysis: Emerging Contaminants and Current Issues. Anal. Chem. 90, 398–428.
  5. Lewis, R.C., Johns, L.E., Meeker, J.D., 2015. Serum Biomarkers of Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances in Relation to Serum Testosterone and Measures of Thyroid Function among Adults and Adolescents from NHANES 2011–2012. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Jun; 12(6): 6098–6114.
  6. Hu, X.C., Andrews, D.Q., Lindstrom, A.B., Bruton, T.A., Schaider, L.A., Grandjean, P., Lohmann, R., Carignan, C.C., Blum, A., Balan, S.A., Higgins, C.P., Sunderland, E.M., 2016. Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 3, 344–350.
  7. Grandjean, P., Clapp, R., 2015. Perfluorinated alkyl substances: emerging insights into health risks. New Solut. a J. Environ. Occup. Heal. policy 25, 147–163.
  8. Barzen-Hanson, K.A., Roberts, S.C., Choyke, S., Oetjen, K., McAlees, A., Riddell, N., McCrindle, R., Ferguson, P.L., Higgins, C.P., Field, J.A., 2017. Discovery of 40 Classes of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Historical Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFFs) and AFFF-Impacted Groundwater. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51.


Telling the PFAS story with pine needles

As an ever-expanding group of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) require novel techniques to monitor their current and historical presence in the environment. Concerns over exposure to PFAS chemicals continue to grow, with some having known toxic characteristics and the potential effects of others remaining unknown.1 In addition, while PFAS are one of the most persistent synthetic chemicals to date, most of them hardly degrade in the environment.2 So, how long do traces of PFAS last in our environment? Two tools used to help answer this question are active samplers and passive samplers.

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Craig has worked in the mass spectrometry industry for over 20 years and has been with SCIEX since 2016. As a senior product application specialist, he works with customers to understand their targeted screening workflows and provide solutions using high-resolution accurate mass spectrometry technologies.


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