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Advances in analytical chemistry in recent years have allowed the routine detection of low- and sub-ppb levels of PFOS in food, wildlife, and humans.
Two primary methods are used for the industrial scale production of PFOS: electrophilic (or electrochemical) fluorination (ECF) and telomerization. ECF is an electrolysis production method where a precursor of perfluorooctanesulfonyl fluoride is dispersed in a solution of hydrofluoric acid and electrified. This production method, whilst economic and mainly results in PFOS, also results in shorter chain perfluoroalkyl substances being formed. PFOS predominates in the resultant mixture, however, if the reaction is allowed to continue this begins to favor the production of shorter chain PFAS. A distinct isomer ratio has been observed in PFOS produced by ECF, in the order of 70% linear PFOS, 25% branched and 5% terminal; this is not a function of the production process but rather that the precursor also exhibits this isomer ratio. ECF was the means by which 3M produced PFOS up until May 2000 when the company announced a phaseout of fluorosurfactants.
Telomerisation involves constructing the PFOS molecule using short chain (often 2-carbon) moieties and adding a sulfonate group as a final step. This production process results in 100% linear PFOS. This production method, whilst cleaner and resulting in a much more pure product than ECF, is not known to have been widely used except for the production of reagent grade PFOS and analytical standards.
PFOS compounds can also be found in some impregnation agents for textiles, paper, and leather; in wax, polishes, paints, varnishes, and cleaning products for general use; in metal surfaces, and carpets.
In the semiconductor industry, PFOS is used in multiple photolithographic chemicals including: photoacid generators (PAGs) and anti-reflective coatings (ARCs). It has been phased out in the European Union semiconductor industry due to health concerns.
In 2008, it was shown to affect the immune system of male mice at a blood serum concentration of 91.5 parts per billion, raising the possibility that highly exposed people and wildlife are immunocompromised. Chicken eggs dosed at 1 milligram per kilogram (or 1000 parts per billion) of egg weight developed into juvenile chickens with an average of ~150 parts per billion in blood serum—and showed brain asymmetry and decreased immunoglobulin levels. Occupationally exposed individuals may have an average level of PFOS over 1000 parts per billion, and a small segment of individuals in the upper range of the general population may be over the 91.5 parts per billion level. A variety of wildlife species have had PFOS levels measured in egg, liver, kidney, serum, and plasma samples and some of the highest recorded values as of January 2006 are listed below.
The levels observed in wild animals are considered sufficient to "alter health parameters". In people, the highest exposures to PFOS in blood have been 12,830 parts per billion for occupational exposure and 656 parts per billion—or possibly 1,656 parts per billion—in a consumer.
In animal studies PFOS can cause cancer, delays in physical development, stunted growth, endocrine disruption, and neonatal mortality; Neonatal mortality might be the most dramatic result of laboratory animal tests with PFOS. Female mice with blood levels of PFOS at ranges found in wildlife and humans demonstrated higher mortality when infected with influenza A. PFOS reduces the birth size of animals; in humans, correlations between PFOS levels and reduced fetal growth are inconsistent.
PFOS is detected in the blood serum of almost all people in the U.S., and concentrations have been decreasing over time. In contrast, PFOS blood levels appear to be rising in China. PFOS levels in pregnant women have been associated with preeclampsia. Increased levels have been associated with altered thyroid hormone levels in adults and an increased risk of elevated cholesterol. Levels in US children aged 12-15 were associated with an increased risk (60% over the interquartile range) of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One 2009 study found that women with higher levels of PFOS and PFOA took longer to become pregnant than those with lower levels, suggesting that the chemicals may impair fertility.
PFOS has been detected in municipal wastewater and drinking water samples, worldwide, at concentrations ranging between few ng/L and some ?g/L. In a recent study assessing the risk due to the presence of polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water, Risk Quotients values higher than 0.2 or 1 were calculated for PFOS for some age groups under specific scenarios. Further research is needed on the field as well as for the monitoring and prioritization of this compound in drinking water.
Volatilesulfonamide PFOS precursors include N-methyl perfluorooctane sulfonamidoethanol (N-MeFOSE), a carpet stain repellent, and N-ethyl perfluorooctane sulfonamidoethanol (N-EtFOSE), a paper treatment.Perfluorooctanesulfonamide is a precursor. About 50 precursors were named in the 2004 proposed Canadian ban on PFOS. Later, the OECD came up with a document containing a list of 20 pages with potential precursors to PFOS.
Based on an OECD study on PFOS and a risk assessment by Europe's Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks the European Union practically banned the use of PFOS in finished and semi-finished products in 2006 (maximum content of PFOS: 0.005% by weight). However, PFOS use for industrial applications (e.g. photolithography, mist suppressants for hard chromium plating, hydraulic fluids for aviation) was exempted.
In 2009 this directive was incorporated into the REACH regulation. In the summer of 2010 PFOS was added to the regulation on persistent organic pollutants and the threshold was lowered to max. 0.001% by weight (10 mg/kg).
In 2020, a California bill was passed banning PFOS and the following salts as an intentionally added ingredient from cosmetics: ammonium perfluorooctane sulfonate, diethanolamine perfluorooctane sulfonate, lithium perfluorooctane sulfonate and potassium perfluorooctane sulfonate.
In March 2021 EPA announced that it will develop national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.
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