NILU - The Norwegian Institute for Air Research

Nordic screening for Perfluorinated Alkylated Substances (PFAS)


Courtesy of Courtesy of NILU - The Norwegian Institute for Air Research

Six Nordic countries have participated in a screening study of perfluorinated alkylated substances: Denmark, Faeroe Islands, Finland Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Compound specific distribution patterns in the different sample types confirmed that the physico-chemical properties in combination with release patterns and bioaccumulation potential are important and selective parameters for PFAS contamination. The Nordic PFAS screening study revealed an ubiquitous distribution of perfluorinated contaminants.

The Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) in co-operation with The Institute of Applied Environmental Research at the Stockholm University (ITM) has conducted a first screening effort on the distribution and fate of perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) in the Nordic environment.

Nordic co-operation

The study was initiated by a project group with representatives of National Environmental Research Institute of Denmark, Finnish Environment Institute, Environment and Food Agency of Iceland, Food, Veterinary and Environmental Agency of the Faeroe Islands, Norwegian Pollution Control Authority and Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

The project was financed and supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers through the Nordic Chemicals Group and the Nordic Monitoring and Data Group as well as the participating institutions.

Nordic screening for Perfluorinated Alkylated Substances (PFAS)

Precipitation samples

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) dominated in sewage sludge samples, as seen in the figure below. Landfill effluent was highest contaminated of all aqueous samples. PFOA was dominating in landfill effluents.

Nordic screening for Perfluorinated Alkylated Substances (PFAS)

Lake water, seawater and rainwater (precipitation) samples were relatively low contaminated. However, measurable amounts of PFAS were found in all samples. The Nordic biota samples showed signals of species dependent distribution and levels. Highest PFAS levels were found in top predating Danish harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) samples with PFOS as predominant PFAS contaminant. However, in Faeroe Island pilot whales (Globicephala melas), PFOSA (Perfluorooctane sulfonamide) and PFOS were dominating with up to 364 ng/g wet weight.

Also Finnish and Norwegian pike samples (Esox lucius) are highly contaminated with PFOS (PFOS = 551 ng/g ww) demonstrating that also the freshwater ecosystem is contaminated with PFAS related chemicals. The patterns found in biota point towards both country specific release patterns and species depended up-take/ accumulation properties. The fact that PFOS and PFOSA were also detected in landlocked Arctic char in the Faeroe Islands indicates that long-range transport in air and/or precipitation is occurring.

Presence confirmed

Thus, PFAS related chemicals are widely distributed in the Nordic environment. The presence of this type of compounds is generally confirmed for all environmental compartments. It is therefore recommended to include the relevant PFAS-related chemicals in environmental monitoring and consider further measures to reduce the burden of PFAS to the Nordic environment.

During the past years, NILU has gained substantial knowledge about trace analysis and assessing the environmental behaviour of PFAS related compounds.

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