New suspicion of old contamination: the PFAS group of chemicals

PFAS is a group of industrial chemicals that includes approx. 4700 substances. They are organic compounds in which hydrogen atoms were replaced by fluorine atoms. Perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanic sulfonic acid (PFOS) are the lead substances of the PFAS class of compounds.

Their special properties make them seemingly indispensable in many industrial fields and in households, because their varied use is based on their unique properties:

In addition to their surface activity (water- as well as fat-repellent at the same time), they have high thermal and chemical stability due to their chemical structure. This class of substances therefore has attractive properties for the production of outdoor clothing, fat-repelling food packaging, film-creating fire extinction foams, wetting agents for electroplating, cleaning agents, medical products, auxiliary substances for semiconductor production, cosmetic products and many other applications.

However, these properties are major disadvantages as soon as these substances get into the environment. Due to their persistence and mobility, perfluorinated alkyl substances can be detected in even the most remote areas of the world.

PFOS, which are clearly more bio-affine than PFOA, can be found worldwide in fish, marine animals, wild animals, milk and numerous other foods and can - just like several other PFAS - also be detected in human blood and mother’s milk.

Due to the problems described above, PFAS are becoming ever more relevant for contamination investigations and remediation.

By now, concentration values for 9 PFAS have been derived in the range between 0.7 and 700 µg/l. In addition, acceptance limits for landfill sites have been derived according to VVEA for 4 PFAS.

As this issue will in future be incorporated into contamination and environmental law, it must be assumed that the authorities will in future also require sampling with regard to these parameters in suspected cases.

The sector-related sites are, in particular:

  • Airports,
  • fire brigade stations and training areas,
  • fire sites after the use of fire extinguishing foam,
  • electroplating operations (also as part of plants),
  • paper and photographic industry,
  • waste water, sewage sludge, irrigation water.


Your contact person:

Michael Rüffer
Partner, Contaminated Sites Divisional Manager