Polyfluorinated compounds have been used since the 1950s in industrial applications and consumer products, including protective coatings (for paper, carpets, textiles and leathers), lubricants, paints, cosmetics, surfactants and fire-fighting foams. Perfluorinated alkyl acids such as the perfluorocarboxylic acids and perfluorosulfonic acids (where the carbon chain length can be typically 3 to 12 carbons) are the best known examples of these substances as they are ubiquitous
in the global environment, wildlife and humans. The persistence, bioaccumulation potential and toxicity of long-chain perfluorinated alkyl acids has led to scrutiny and some action by industry and regulators. For example, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) has been listed in Annex B of the Stockholm Convention, whereas industry have implemented measures to restrict environmental discharges and replace existing products.
Research on perfluorinated compounds is particularly important in Nordic countries, which act as bridge between industrialized areas and pristine (e.g. Arctic) environments that need to be protected. The fact that large quantities of PFCs are being conveyed into pristine environments by unknown mechanisms is unacceptable and Nordic countries need to foster competence in this field to know how best to protect the environment.
It is imperative that we better understand the fate and exposure (wildlife and human) of perfluorinated compounds as well as their breakdown products. Research should be undertaken on legacy (those already phased out), existing and replacement substances.