PFPAs Found in Canadian Surface Water, Effluent

Another contaminant found in Canadian water samples may join the list of environmental substances that could be harmful to humans and the environment, according to recent study results by Jessica C. D'eon of the University of Toronto and colleagues.

An article of the study, published in the September 2009 issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, was written by D’eon, Patrick W. Crozier, Vasile I. Furdui, Eric J. Reiner, E. Laurence Libelo, and Scott A. Mabury.

The newest potential threat to human health and the environment is fluorochemicals known as perfluorinated phosphoric acids (PFPAs), which were found in water samples taken for study in the past decade from Canadian creeks, rivers and, waste treatment effluents.

PFPAs, which were found at 24 of 30 sites used in the research, are used commercially as leveling and wetting agents and to defoam additives in pesticide formulations. Similar fluorochemicals have been used for industrial purposes since the 1950s but were not identified as widespread environmental contaminants until 2001. As noted in the article, PFPAs lack hydrogen atoms and may resist degradation, like other fluorochemicals such as perfluorinated carboxylic and sulfonic acids that once were used commercially and now are regulated in the United States and Canada.

“From the analysis of Canadian surface waters, low-level PFPA contamination clearly is widespread,” the authors say. PFPAs had not previously been identified as contaminants of potential concern, although the United States has acted to limit their use in food crop pesticides because of health concerns and a lack of research on their implications.

“These regulatory decisions were based on uncertainty regarding the environmental fate of PFPAs,” the authors write. “To our knowledge, no environmental evidence has been available before the present study.”

The study shows that researchers still do not have a clear understanding of the extent and significance of fluorochemical contamination of the environment and the authors conclude that additional research on PFPAs is necessary.

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