The fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), held virtually and in person August 13–17, 2023, features more than 10,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. Read on to discover some of the exciting research presented at the meeting—and check back as we continue coverage throughout the week!
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of anthropogenic chemicals that have extensive applications in industry and daily life. Due to one of the strongest carbon–fluorine bonds ever, PFAS are highly resistant to breakdown in the environment, earning them the “forever chemicals” nickname.
PFAS (PEE-fahs) can be found across a vast array of consumer goods, including clothing, cosmetics, outdoor apparel, and many other textiles and products. And now, researchers have determined that PFAS could be lurking within some types of menstrual products.
This is both concerning and difficult to navigate as a consumer—regulatory requirements for reporting PFAS use are sparse, and even when thresholds are in place, the actual quantities of PFAS in many products are often far greater than the recommended limits.
In addition to concern for consumers, there is also the detrimental impact these chemicals have on our planet. “Once these products are thrown away, they go to landfills and decay, releasing PFAS into groundwater. And we, or later generations, could end up inadvertently ingesting them,” says Professor Graham Peaslee, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the project.
The researchers tested more than 100 single-use and reusable feminine hygiene products, including the packaging, using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy. For products with multiple layers, such as single-use pads and reusable period underwear, they sampled each layer separately.
Some period product types were relatively free of PFAS. “In general, tampons didn’t seem to contain fluorine,” says Dr. Alyssa Wicks, who presented these findings at the ACS Fall 2023 meeting. “Same with menstrual cups and the layers of pads that come in contact with a person’s skin.”
However, the researchers discovered that some of the highest amounts of total organic fluorine, a key marker for PFAS, were present in the wrappers for many pads and some tampons, as well as in the outer layers of some period underwear. They hypothesize that PFAS might be used in these instances to keep moisture out of single-use products prior to use and to prevent blood leakage from the inner layers of the underwear onto clothing. Next steps for the team will include testing these high-fluorine samples for 40 different PFAS compounds.
This is not the first foray into PFAS research for Prof. Peaslee. He and his colleagues have published numerous studies in ACS journals that explore the inherent chemical nature of PFAS and their impact on the environment, including PFAS in various consumer products. Several recent studies from Prof. Peaslee and his colleagues are highlighted below—read on to learn more.
Watch the briefing from the ACS Meeting Newsroom, in which Prof. Peaslee and Dr. Wicks discuss their research presented at ACS Fall 2023:
Explore More PFAS Research from Prof. Peaslee and Colleagues:
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Canadian Fast Food Packaging
Heather Schwartz-Narbonne, Chunjie Xia, Anna Shalin, Heather D. Whitehead, Diwen Yang, Graham F. Peaslee, Zhanyun Wang, Yan Wu, Hui Peng, Arlene Blum, Marta Venier*, and Miriam L. Diamond*
Directly Fluorinated Containers as a Source of Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylic Acids
Heather D. Whitehead* and Graham F. Peaslee
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in North American School Uniforms
Chunjie Xia, Miriam L. Diamond, Graham F. Peaslee, Hui Peng, Arlene Blum, Zhanyun Wang, Anna Shalin, Heather D. Whitehead, Megan Green, Heather Schwartz-Narbonne, Diwen Yang, and Marta Venier*
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Facemasks: Potential Source of Human Exposure to PFAS with Implications for Disposal to Landfills
Derek J. Muensterman, Liliana Cahuas, Ivan A. Titaley*, Christopher Schmokel, Florentino B. De la Cruz, Morton A. Barlaz, Courtney C. Carignan, Graham F. Peaslee, and Jennifer A. Field
Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics
Heather D. Whitehead, Marta Venier, Yan Wu, Emi Eastman, Shannon Urbanik, Miriam L. Diamond, Anna Shalin, Heather Schwartz-Narbonne, Thomas A. Bruton, Arlene Blum, Zhanyun Wang, Megan Green, Meghanne Tighe, John T. Wilkinson, Sean McGuinness, and Graham F. Peaslee*
Another Pathway for Firefighter Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances: Firefighter Textiles
Graham F. Peaslee*, John T. Wilkinson, Sean R. McGuinness, Meghanne Tighe, Nicholas Caterisano, Seryeong Lee, Alec Gonzales, Matthew Roddy, Simon Mills, and Krystle Mitchell