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Abiotic Hydrolysis of Fluorotelomer-Based Polymers as a Source of Perfluorocarboxylates at the Global Scale

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journal contribution
posted on 15.12.2015 by John W. Washington, Thomas M. Jenkins
Fluorotelomer-based polymers (FTPs) are the main product of the fluorotelomer industry. For nearly 10 years, whether FTPs degrade to form perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorocarboxylate (PFCA) homologues has been vigorously contested. Here we show that circum-neutral abiotic hydrolysis of a commercial FTP proceeds with half-life estimates of 55–89 years and that base-mediated hydrolysis overtakes neutral hydrolysis at about pH = 10, with a half-life of ∼0.7 years at pH ∼ 12. Considered in light of the large production volume of FTPs and the poor efficacy of conventional treatments for recovery of PFCAs from waste streams, these results suggest that FTPs manufactured to date potentially could increase PFCAs 4- to 8-fold over current oceanic loads, largely depending on the integrity of disposal units to contain PFCAs upon hydrolytic generation from FTPs.