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  1. Despite decades of research on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), fundamental obstacles remain to addressing worldwide contamination by these chemicals and their associated impacts on environmental quality and health. Here, we propose six urgent questions relevant to science, technology, and policy that must be tackled to address the “PFAS problem”: (1) What are the global production volumes of PFAS, and where are PFAS used? (2) Where are the unknown PFAS hotspots in the environment? (3) How can we make measuring PFAS globally accessible? (4) How can we safely manage PFAS-containing waste? (5) How do we understand and describe the health effects of PFAS exposure? (6) Who pays the costs of PFAS contamination? The importance of each question and barriers to progress are briefly described, and several potential paths forward are proposed. Given the diversity of PFAS and their uses, the extreme persistence of most PFAS, the striking ongoing lack of fundamental information, and the inequity of the health and environmental impacts from PFAS contamination, there is a need for scientific and regulatory communities to work together, with cooperation from PFAS-related industries, to fill in critical data gaps and protect human health and the environment.
  2. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic organic substances with diverse structures, properties, uses, bioaccumulation potentials and toxicities. Despite this high diversity, all PFAS are alike in that they contain perfluoroalkyl moieties that are extremely resistant to environmental and metabolic degradation. The vast majority of PFAS are therefore either non-degradable or transform ultimately into stable terminal transformation products (which are still PFAS). Under the European chemicals regulation this classifies PFAS as very persistent substances (vP). We argue that this high persistence is sufficient concern for their management as a chemical class, and for all “non-essential” uses of PFAS to be phased out. The continual release of highly persistent PFAS will result in increasing concentrations and increasing probabilities of the occurrence of known and unknown effects. Once adverse effects are identified, the exposure and associated effects will not be easily reversible. Reversing PFAS contamination will be technically challenging, energy intensive, and costly for society, as is evident in the efforts to remove PFAS from contaminated land and drinking water sources.
  3. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of concern because of their high persistence (or that of their degradation products) and their impacts on human and environmental health that are known or can be deduced from some well-studied PFAS. Currently, many different PFAS (on the order of several thousands) are used in a wide range of applications, and there is no comprehensive source of information on the many individual substances and their functions in different applications. Here we provide a broad overview of many use categories where PFAS have been employed and for which function; we also specify which PFAS have been used and discuss the magnitude of the uses. Despite being non-exhaustive, our study clearly demonstrates that PFAS are used in almost all industry branches and many consumer products. In total, more than 200 use categories and subcategories are identified for more than 1400 individual PFAS. In addition to well-known categories such as textile impregnation, fire-fighting foam, and electroplating, the identified use categories also include many categories not described in the scientific literature, including PFAS in ammunition, climbing ropes, guitar strings, artificial turf, and soil remediation. We further discuss several use categories that may be prioritised for finding PFAS-free alternatives.more »Besides the detailed description of use categories, the present study also provides a list of the identified PFAS per use category, including their exact masses for future analytical studies aiming to identify additional PFAS.« less