There are thousands of per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) in use for countless consumer products. PFAS can make products non-stick or waterproof. They are also used in industrial processes and make up fire-fighting foams used by first responders. With so many types of PFAS in use, EPA researchers have had to use new and innovative tools to gather more information about these chemicals.
Today, researchers can rapidly characterize thousands of never studied chemical compounds in a wide variety of environmental, residential, and biological media. This approach is called non-targeted analysis. Researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and North Carolina State University used the non-targeted approach to understand the impact of industrial discharges in the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Using high resolution mass spectrometry they identified many PFAS, including GenX, which is a trade name for a PFAS chemical, in the Cape Fear River. The researchers coordinated with the EPA regional office, the state, and industry to reduce PFAS in the watershed.