Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS)

Effects on people, water and the environment

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds(PFAS) are organic compounds that have been used in a variety of applications since the 1950s, e.g. in the textile, paper and packaging industries, in the production of foams and fire-fighting foam, as well as in the aerospace industry. Due to their special chemical structure, PFAS have certain properties such as high resistance to water and grease, which makes them so attractive in many applications. However, PFAS also have numerous negative effects on the environment and our health.

What are PFAS and how do they work?

PFAS are compounds that consist of a long chain of carbon and fluorine atoms. The carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest in organic chemistry and makes PFAS very stable and difficult to break down. PFAS have a high persistence and can accumulate in the environment and in organisms. Some PFAS also have toxic properties and can affect our health.

Where do PFAS occur?

PFAS are found in many products. Some examples are

  • Coatings on pans, pots and baking paper
  • Impregnation of clothing, shoes and carpets
  • Fire-fighting foam and foams
  • Water-repellent packaging for fast food and takeaway
  • Cleaning agent
  • Electronic devices and components
  • Cosmetics

Why are PFAS a problem for the environment?

PFAS can enter the environment and accumulate in soil, water and air. They can enter our food and ultimately our bodies via the food chain. Some PFAS have toxic properties and can affect our health. PFAS can also occur in drinking water sources and thus pose a risk to human health. High exposure to PFAS can lead to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, liver and kidney problems and hormonal disorders.

What is being done to reduce the use of PFAS?

Due to the negative effects of PFAS on the environment and health, measures have already been taken in various countries to reduce or ban the use of PFAS. In 2019, for example, the European Union decided to ban PFAS in various applications such as fire-fighting foam and certain packaging. Switzerland is also currently working on regulating PFAS.

Water treatment plants and filters can also help to reduce PFAS contamination in drinking water. However, it is important to note that not all filter types are able to effectively remove PFAS and that filter replacement must be carried out regularly to ensure continued effectiveness.

Why can't PAFS activated charcoal filters filter properly?

The filtration performance depends on the composition of the PFAS, the concentration of PFAS in the feed and the service life of the activated carbon. Activated carbon removes most PFAS by more than 98% initially or up to the regulatory limit (ppt level), but with different lifetimes for different types of PFAS. In general, PFAS with shorter chains (C4-C6) (such as PFBA, PFBS) have a relatively shorter lifetime than PFAS with longer chains (>C6) (PFOA, PFOS). The breakthrough for shorter-chain substances will be faster. Carbon-based carbon is also much more efficient than coconut-based carbon.

Carbon can remove PFAS to below the detection limit (2.5 ng/liter). Of course, the removal efficiency also depends on the other impurities present in the water.


PFAS are a significant problem for the environment and human and animal health due to their persistent properties and widespread use. It is important that the use of PFAS is restricted and that there is effective monitoring and reduction of their exposure in the environment and in drinking water. Consumers can also contribute by looking for products that are PFAS-free and by protecting their water supply with appropriate filters.

Research into PFAS and their impact on the environment and health is far from complete. It is therefore important that the authorities and scientists continue to work together to understand the full extent of the problem and find appropriate solutions. This is the only way to protect the environment and our health.

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