PFAS: Is it in your operations?

PFAS are being revealed in products and processes all around the globe. The question is: is it a byproduct in your manufacturing operations and what are the rules around it, made by whom, if it is?

Headshot KamelijaM PaulOlagnier

by Kamelija Milosev, Paul Olagnier

Discovered in the late 1930s, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known for their durability. Widespread across multiple industries, including food and drink, packaging, apparel, textiles, children’s toys, and more, their toxic longevity has been cited by several welfare and compliance organizations.  

Recently, new regulatory restrictions to prohibit their use have soared, with concerns surrounding their potential harm and lingering presence in the environment, as well as bioaccumulation in humans, animals and plants. 

Subject Matter Expert, Kamelija Milosev and Head of Expert Services Paul Oalgnier explore the global presence of PFAS in multiple sectors, and which legislations are responsible for monitoring their use.

Air emissions

Air emissions from industries that use PFAS in their manufacturing contribute a significant quantity of PFAS-riddled air pollution. PFAS is released into the air from vehicle exhaust emissions and products like lubricants and hydraulic fluids.  

To combat this growing issue, and protect the environment from further irreversible damage, regulators require industrial facility operators to undertake the following actions: 

  • Implement best available techniques (BAT) 
  • Reduce emissions of PFAS in line with relevant thresholds 
  • Regularly monitor and report on emissions 

Additionally, companies operating in the EU are currently mandated under the Industrial Emissions Directive, which establishes air emission and reporting obligations for PFAS. Similarly, in the US, the Clean Air Act intends to regulate the same obligations for use of PFAS.

Waste and wastewater

Waste is an inescapable by-product of any products process. Most jurisdictions consider PFAS-contaminated waste hazardous, requiring strict regulations for its handling, transportation, storage, treatment and disposal.  

Businesses must notify their authority in advance of the disposal of PFAS-contaminated waste, ensuring they use an authorized facility that meets specific requirements for the prevention of environmental pollution and protection of human health. The waste must also be correctly packaged and labeled to prevent leaks during transportation. Finally, companies must keep records of the disposal, including details of the quantity, nature of the waste, location and date.  

Further, waste in liquid form, also known as wastewater, is also strictly regulated. Facility operators must comply with limits on the amount of PFAS that can be discharged into surface or groundwater, as well as monitoring requirements on the quantity discharged, including PFAS sampling plans.  

In the EU, the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register establishes requirements for PFAS-contaminated waste. The Drinking Water Directive also establishes PFAS wastewater limit values and guidelines on analytical methods for measuring PFAS quantity.  

In the US, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) provides business requirements for the disposal of PFAS waste. The Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELGs) Plan and Drinking Water Standards proposes recommendations for PFAS wastewater limits.


PFAS is widely used in the electronics industry for various manufacturing processes. PFAS-containing compounds and fluoropolymers are the leading products in heat transfer fluids, cleaning solvents for electronic devices, lubricants, coatings, adhesives, water resistance, thermal stability, and a range of similar properties.


As chemicals themselves, it stands that PFAS are used often during the manufacture of substances and compounds. In the industry, they’re most present in: 

  • Processing the production of certain chemicals, such as chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and solvents 
  • Surfactants to reduce the surface tension between oil and water – useful in applications where separating oil and water is needed 
  • Wetting agents to improve the wetting properties of liquids, allowing them to spread more easily on solid surfaces 

In Europe, the EU and many individual members states or jurisdictions, have been pushing for the prohibition or restriction of PFAS in recent years, as knowledge of their potential harmfulness has increased. As such, REACH, CLP and POPs regulations all aim to control the spread and continued manufacturing of PFAS in consumer products and operations.  

In the US, PFAS restrictions are regulated on the state level, with a significant number of bans coming into effect this year and next.


PFAS in textile production accounts for approximately 50% of its global usage. In this industry, PFAS are mostly used as finishing agents as water, stain, oil, dirt, and frame resistant coatings, as well as non-stick finishes.

Firefighting foams

Lastly, firefighting foams generate a significant amount of PFAS pollution, most commonly in fixed fire suppression systems like sprinklers, spray systems, flammable liquid storage areas, engine hush houses, and fuel farms. This pollution is released into the environment via the following: 

  • Storage, transfer or operational requirements 
  • Discharge of foam solution for firefighting and fire suppression 
  • Discharge for fire training 
  • Accidental leaks from foam distribution piping between storage and pumping locations

A global presence

In light of so many industries relying heavily on PFAS, or producing PFAS emissions from their operations, companies are urged to source safer and more sustainable alternatives.  

Businesses should remain mindful of changing and emerging regulations further restricting the usage of PFAS-containing substances, or how to properly dispose of PFAS-contaminated waste. With this topic spotlighted for its impact on people and the planet, it comes as no surprise that compliant demands are becoming more stringent.

Latest PFAS regulations

The increasing number of legislations being proposed against PFAS presents a challenge for businesses working in the above industries. Staying ahead of these upcoming developments is vital for meeting compliance in chemicals management.  

Keep abreast of changing developments by reading the latest PFAS regulations.  

Read the report