PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is an umbrella classification that includes thousands (more than 4,700) of chemicals with similar molecular structures.
PFAS are man-made chemicals that do not occur in nature and have been commercially manufactured since the 1940s. They are highly resistant to heat, water and oil, which explains their popularity among industrial processes as well as among consumer products. They can be found in everything from non-stick cookware and firefighting foam to electronics, food packaging and stain-resistant textiles. However, the strong chemical bonds that make them so useful also mean they are virtually indestructible in the environment.
PFAS are building up and contaminating the natural environment (soil, water and oceans) which means they are also accumulating in plants, animals and humans. Worst still, certain types have been shown to cause adverse health effects, such as endocrine and immune system disorders, elevated cholesterol levels, birth defects and cancer. PFAS have been detected in humans and animals all over the world, demonstrating it’s a global problem. Negative health effects have led many state, local and federal governments (including US and EU Member States) to outright ban production of some PFAS (most notably PFOA and PFOS, see below) and monitor production levels of others.
Moreover, governments worldwide are monitoring and/or mandating PFAS levels in drinking water and the environment.
Dealing with PFAS involves coordinated action and investments from governments, utilities and a multitude of industries across the economy. First, banned PFAS must be found and cleaned to prevent further contamination of water supplies and the environment. Second, industries that manufacture, use and dispose of permitted PFAS must invest in measurement technology to monitor and report levels within products and biproducts. Moreover, utilities that manage industrial and residential water supplies must invest in new technology and infrastructure upgrades to treat and safely dispose of PFAS pollutants.
Protecting natural resources is a key pillar across Robeco’s Sustainable Thematic Equity Strategies. Through its Sustainable Water strategy, Robeco invests in solutions providers focused on ensuring safe, healthy, and abundant water supplies for people, processes, and planet.
PFOA and PFOS
Perfluorooctanoic acid (or PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (or PFOS) are man-made chemicals used for decades in many industrial processes and common household products. They are now banned from production in many developed countries as a result of adverse health and environmental impacts.