What is PFOS and PFOA?

Published on 28/11/2020 Last updated on 17/08/2023

The chemical substances group PFAS has come under heavy fire in recent years. These are substances that are often used in the chemical industry. PFOS and PFOA are substances that belong to the group PFAS. They occur in Dutch surface water and groundwater. Because PFAS is difficult to purify from the water, the substances are also found in small particles in our drinking water. But what exactly is PFOS and PFOA?

PFAS is the abbreviation for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals have water and grease resistant properties. They do not occur naturally on earth, but are made by man. As a result, they are also not biodegradable. They are often used in pans, paint, food packaging, jackets, cosmetics, ski wax, lubricants and fire-fighting foam.

What is PFOS?

PFOS is short for perfluorooctane sulfonates. The substance belongs to the collection group PFAS. PFOS are indestructible compounds that repel water, grease and dirt. For example, it is used in rain gear and pans. There are also high concentrations of this substance in the foam of fire extinguishers. The substance ends up in the ground via the waste water from factories and, for example, when extinguishing foam is rinsed after a fire. It spreads further through canals and ditches to sources that are used for our drinking water. The substance is virtually indestructible and non-biodegradable. PFOS is also virtually impossible to neutralize by chemical treatment, you can only burn it at very high temperatures.

What is PFOA?

PFOA is short for perfluorooctanoic acid. This substance also belongs to the PFAS substance group. PFOA has a very good oil and water repellent effect. That is why it is often used in baking paper, floor wax, textiles, carpets, carpet cleaners and pizza boxes. In addition, PFOA is an auxiliary substance in the preparation of Teflon, or the non-stick coating of pans. In the US and Europe, PFOA has hardly been produced since 2015. However, the substance is still found in products imported from Asia, where large-scale production with this substance still takes place. PFOA is found in the soil and surface water across Europe. This originates from the DuPont / Chemours factory for example, which has processed PFOA in products for years. Through rain and wind, the dust settled in a wide area around the factory and settled into the soil. The European Envroirnment Agency published information about PFOA.

How harmful is PFOS and PFOA to health?

Despite the lack of knowledge about the long-term effects of PFAS, the substances are classified as “Substances of Very High Concern”. They are considered harmful and carcinogenic. RIVM is investigating what damage PFAS can cause in the longer term. Both PFOS and PFOA are chemical and cannot be broken down by our body. They remain in the blood and liver for years. The more you consume these substances, the further the level of these harmful substances accumulates in your body. Both PFOS and PFOA can cause liver damage, have an effect on our immune system, are harmful to reproduction and the development of the unborn child. The substances are also possibly carcinogenic.

Is PFOS and PFOA found in drinking water?

Yes, both PFOS and PFOA are found as contaminants in our drinking water. In addition, it can enter our food chain through the spraying of crops in cultivation and arable farming. PFAS are substances that spread through the air, soil, food and water. A large part ends up in the environment through industrial emissions. Rainwater causes PFAS to end up in surface water or through the soil in the groundwater. Sewage treatment plants also spread PFAS in the surface water. Both surface and ground water are used as a source for our drinking water. PFAS are difficult to purify from drinking water with current purification techniques. The concentrations in drinking water are still far below the legal standard and are therefore not seen as harmful to our health. Still be on the safe side? Then filter your tap water with ZeroWater, the only filter that removes PFAS from the water. This way you are always assured of really clean drinking water.