PFAS Sourcing Challenges – Alternatives on the Rise

Published on 23 Nov, 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), widely used for their unique properties, face heightened scrutiny due to health and environmental concerns. Their persistence in the environment and links to adverse health effects have led to regulatory actions globally. Industries such as food packaging, coatings and paints, chemicals, cosmetics and personal care, and electronics using PFAS are recommended to adopt safer alternatives, stay up to date on regulations, and follow responsible management practices. Proactive measures can mitigate the environmental impact, safeguard public health, and ensure business sustainability amid increasing PFAS challenges.

PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” are a diverse group of synthetic chemicals that have been integrated into consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. PFAS molecules consist of linked carbon and fluorine atoms, forming a chain known for its stability. However, this property, attributed to the robust carbon-fluorine bond, makes PFAS resistant to environmental degradation.

Environmental Impact

The durable nature of PFAS poses environmental threats as they collect in the soil, water, and air. This persistence is attributed to their slow degradation owing to the strong carbon-fluorine bonds. Certain PFAS, such as PFOA and PFOS, do not decompose in the environment, can accumulate in living things, and adversely impact human health and the environment.

Human Exposure and Health Concerns

Human exposure to PFAS is widespread and varies by geography and occupation. PFAS, used in a range of industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, and electronics, can leak into the environment, leading to potential exposure through contaminated water, food, and air.

Regulatory Measures

Regulatory measures worldwide are aimed to manage PFAS contamination.

  • Drinking Water Standards: Setting of maximum allowable levels for specific PFAS compounds in drinking water
  • Product Regulations: Restrictions on PFAS used in consumer products like food packaging
  • Cleanup Efforts: Initiatives to remediate contaminated sites and prevent further environmental harm
  • Research and Monitoring: Ongoing efforts to understand PFAS toxicity and prevalence in environment

How Companies are Responding

To address PFAS-related challenges, companies are undertaking some of the following measures:

  • Phasing out PFAS use and seeking alternatives in products and processes.
  • Transparently labeling products as "PFAS-free" to inform consumers.
  • Ensuring PFAS-free raw materials and components through strict procurement guidelines.
  • Investing in research for PFAS-free alternatives and technologies.
  • Responsibly disposing PFAS-containing waste to prevent further environmental contamination.
  • Actively monitoring and addressing PFAS contamination in facilities and surrounding areas.
  • Adhering to evolving regulations related to PFAS use and reporting.

Recent Developments and Financial Implications

Recent legal settlements, such as the USD 12.5 billion agreement reached by 3M, underscore the significant financial repercussions for PFAS manufacturers. In June, Chemours, DuPont de Nemours Inc, and Corteva collectively made a USD 1.19 billion settlement with numerous US public water systems affected by PFAS contamination. Another substantial settlement in June involved DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva, totaling USD 1.1 billion. However, despite these sizable amounts, they represent only a fraction of the estimated USD 400 billion required for the comprehensive cleaning and protection of drinking water. For instance, Orange County, California, anticipates spending USD 1 billion solely on cleaning its water system. Some utilities such as the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) near Wilmington, North Carolina, are independently addressing the issue. Situated about 75 miles downstream from a Chemours PFAS manufacturing plant, CFPUA invested approximately USD 46 million in developing a granular activated carbon system to eliminate PFAS, with an additional estimated annual operational cost of USD 5 million. As utilities face heavy cleanup expense, there is a growing need for excise tax on PFAS. Ongoing research highlights the intricate nature of managing challenges associated with PFAS.

PFAS Alternatives: Toward Sustainable Solutions

Alternatives to PFAS can be broadly categorized into two groups: functional and chemical. Functional alternatives rely on technical or engineering solutions, avoiding chemical methods. On the other hand, chemical alternatives replace fluorinated compounds with non-fluorinated alternatives, maintaining similar functionalities. The objective is to eliminate PFAS across sectors, leveraging sustainable chemistry principles and adopting an essential use concept for rapid and effective management or phase out of products containing PFAS.

Some of the critical sectors and PFSA alternatives are outlined in the table below:


PFSA Applications

Alternative Availability


Key Alternatives

Food Packaging and Contact Materials

  • Coatings in non-stick cookware and other non-stick uses
  • O-rings and gaskets used in food processing equipment
  • Processing aids in producing conventional non-fluorinated polymers
  • Grease-proofing agents used on food contact paper and paperboard


  • Ceramics
  • Polyl(actic acid)
  • Silicone polymers
  • Aluminum
  • Elephant grass
  • Palm leaves
  • Bamboo
  • Clay 
  • Wheat straw

Coatings, Paints, and Varnishes

  • Wires and cables
  • Solar panels
  • Household paints and varnishes


  • Soft waxes
  • Sulfosuccinate chemicals

Chemical Industry (Fluoropolymer Production)

  • Emulsification


  • Acrylate
  • Siloxane 
  • Polymeric glycol-based chemistries


  • Chrome electroplating


  • Chromium (III)


  • Anti-foaming agents
  • Insecticidal agents
  • Dispersing agents
  • Inert additives


  • Steel drums
  • Non-PFAS coated HDPE containers

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

  • Moisturizers
  • Body lotions
  • Nail polish and enamel
  • Cleansers
  • Hair products
  • Make-up products




  • Flat panel displays
  • Cooling fluids
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Lubricants
  • Etching solutions




  • Photolithography Process
  • Immersion lithography



Machinery and Equipment Manufacturing

  • Functional fluid



Rubber and Plastic Production

  • Mold release agents
  • Polymer processing aids
  • Anti-blocking agents for rubber
  • Curatives



Cleaning Products

  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • Floor polish
  • Car wash
  • Carpet spot cleane




  • Carpets
  • Rugs
  • Clothing
  • Protective apparel
  • Shoes
  • Upholstery



Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices

  • Non-prescription drug products
  • Implantable devices
  • Dental floss



Key Takeaways for Industries

  • Regulatory Compliance: PFAS is increasingly under global regulatory scrutiny, prompting various jurisdictions to impose restrictions or bans. Businesses must keep pace with these developments and comply with applicable regulations.
  • Alternative Exploration: Industries utilizing PFAS in their products should actively seek safer alternatives. This involves R&D and supplier collaboration to identify sustainable substitutes.
  • Phase-out Planning: Companies must develop comprehensive phase-out plans to gradually eliminate PFAS from manufacturing processes and products. They should identify essential applications, explore substitutes, and implement risk mitigation measures to reduce environmental exposure.
  • Collaboration for Solutions: Industries must engage in collaborative efforts with other industries and stakeholders to share best practices, encourage innovation, and advocate effective regulatory policies addressing PFAS contamination while promoting sustainability.
  • Proper Disposal Practices: Responsible disposal of PFAS-containing waste would prevent environmental contamination. This may require specialized treatment facilities and strict adherence to waste management guidelines.
  • Supplier Assessment: Companies are recommended to thoroughly assess suppliers to verify they are using PFAS-free or compliant materials and adopting responsible PFAS management practices. This helps mitigate risks across the supply chain.

By incorporating these strategies, industries can play a pivotal role in diminishing the environmental impact of PFAS, safeguarding human health, and ensuring the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of their businesses.