Per- and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS)

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About PFAS

Per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), previously known as PFCs (per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals), and their derivatives are a group of synthetic chemicals with many specialty applications. They can provide resistance to heat, to other chemicals or to abrasion and can act as dispersion, wetting or surface-treatment agents. There are many different types of PFAS, including:

  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, known as PFOS
  • perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA
  • perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, known as PFHxS​

In Australia, PFAS have been used in a variety of industrial processes, and in commercial and consumer products. PFOS, PFOA and related compounds are imported mainly for use as mist suppressants in the metal plating industry, hydraulic fluid in the aviation industry, as surfactants in the photography industry and as fire-fighting foams. Many articles such as textiles are likely to have also been treated with PFAS before being imported into Australia.

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Our regulations on PFAS

Under NICNAS, we regulate the manufacture and importation of industrial chemicals into Australia. Manufacturers and importers (introducers) of new PFAS (and new ‘precursor’ chemicals that could break down to form PFAS) must comply with legal obligations under the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 before they can introduce such chemicals into Australia for industrial purposes.

We have additional data requirements specifically for new PFAS so that we can properly assess the risks of these chemicals, particularly in relation to the bioaccumulation and toxicity of their breakdown products (the substances that are formed when these chemicals are degraded in the environment).

We also enforce import and export controls on PFOS and select PFOS precursors listed under the Rotterdam Convention. These controls prohibit the introduction or export of these chemicals unless an importer or exporter obtains our approval. The regulation of the use, release and disposal of PFAS in Australia is primarily a state and territory responsibility.

Our work on PFAS

We published 6 alerts between 2002 and 2008 on the newly identified risks of PFAS, including recommendations to manage these risks as well as updates on our PFAS work, and plans for future work. You can read these alerts through the Australian Government Web Archive.

We continue to contribute to international activities to restrict the use of perfluorinated chemicals through the OECD Chemicals Committee and through our involvement in the Australian Government's efforts to meet Australia’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention.

We have assessed the risks of more than 200 PFAS chemicals available for use in Australia, focusing on PFOS and PFOA and their direct and indirect precursors (other chemicals that break down in the environment to form PFOS and PFOA). We have also assessed the risks of related chemicals including shorter chain PFAS that may be used as replacements for PFOS and PFOA. These assessments include exposure and hazard information and recommendations for industry. You can find these assessments by searching for the chemical’s name or CAS number on our website.

The following table highlights PFAS that we have assessed for human health or environmental risk.

PFAS assessments
Chemical Human HealthEnvironment
Perfluorobutanesulfonate (PFBS) and its direct precursors Yes Yes
Indirect precursors of perfluorobutanesulfonate (PFBS) Yes Yes
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its direct precursors YesYes
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and its direct precursors YesYes
Perfluoroalkyl sulfonates (PFSA) (>C8) and their direct precursors Yes Yes
Perfluoroalkane sulfonates (PFSA) (C5-C7) and their direct precursors YesYes
Short chain perfluorocarboxylic acids and their direct precursors YesYes
Indirect precursors of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) YesYes
Indirect precursors of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) YesYes
Perfluoroheptanoic acid and its direct precursors Yes Yes
Indirect precursors of long-chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) Yes Yes
Indirect precursors of short chain perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) YesYes
Indirect precursors of perfluoroalkane sulfonic acids (PFSA) (C5-C7) YesYes
Direct precursors to perfluorocyclohexane sulfonate and related perfluoroalkylcyclohexane sulfonates YesYes
Perfluorinated derivatives of phosphonic and phosphinic acids YesYes
6:2 Fluorotelomer siloxanes and silicones Yes Yes
6:2 Fluorotelomer sulfonate derivatives YesYes
Carbamic acid, [2-(sulfothio)ethyl]-, C-( alkyl) esters, monosodium salts YesYes

Last update 7 February 2019