Analytical Challenges in PFAS Detection: The Potential for False Positive Results

Posted by on July 10, 2019

This post was co-authored with Tova Werblowsky, Ph.D., a computational physical chemist and associate professor of chemistry at Touro College

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of chemical compounds that resist degradation in the environment. Because PFAS are impervious to water and heat, these compounds have been used in many household products, including food packaging, nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric, water-repellant material, and firefighting foam. The durability of PFAS has earned them the moniker “forever compounds”.

PFAS have been detected at very low levels both in the environment and in blood samples of the general population. The ability to detect PFAS at increasingly lower levels (parts per trillion in drinking water), plus purported health effects due to low-level exposures, have led to thousands of PFAS-related lawsuits in which plaintiffs claim a variety of personal injuries, the need for long-term medical monitoring, diminution of property value, and/or environmental impact.

However, multiple challenges can arise during PFAS testing, including contamination at all stages of analysis, which could result in false positive results. Contamination sources in the laboratory are not well characterized, but likely numerous given the use of PFAS in many consumer and laboratory products.

Possible Sources of Contamination

Both procedural and instrumental contamination are possible during PFAS testing. Below are just some of the sources that may impact sample integrity, and could potentially result in contamination and the occurrence of false-positives:

    • Handling or use of certain consumer products that have the potential to contain or be coated with PFAS, such as food packaging, water proof clothing, adhesives, latex gloves etc.
    • Background contamination during sampling with use of standard procedural blanks
    • PFAS-containing parts in analytical instrumentation (e.g., tubing, seals, and caps in column separation techniques)
    • Use of equipment or samples containing chemical precursors such as Teflon or other fluorine-containing polymers
    • Buildup of PFAS-containing sample residue on complex internal machine parts (e.g., HPLC pumps and degassers)
Why You Need Analytic Chemist on Your Team

As PFAS lawsuits make their way through the courts, defense attorneys will need to recruit credentialed experts to effectively counter the allegations being made by plaintiffs. An analytic chemistry expert will provide a thorough review of the strengths and weaknesses of testing procedures used to measure PFAS levels in these cases and in the scientific literature, including sample collection and preparation, extraction methods, measurement, and analyses. Specifically, these expert will likely have to be familiar with consumer product analysis for PFAS and alleged drinking water contamination from industrial manufacture, use, or disposal of PFAS.

The allegations made in each PFAS case will be specific to each plaintiff, but at Innovative Science Solutions we believe that the foundation for any strong defense begins with the right team of scientific experts (see our earlier blog here).

To discuss your expert needs or scientific litigation strategy, please contact us using the form below.

INITIATE A DISCUSSION ABOUT YOUR PFAS CASE

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