PFAS in Surface Finishing Used as a fume suppressant and history of proactive environmental stewardship
Why did plating facilities use PFOS?
Beginning in 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended the use of PFOS as a fume suppressant in the chromium electroplating process. It’s estimated that one third of surface finishing facilities have chromium electroplating processes, but not all of these may have used PFOS fume suppressants.
The amounts of PFOS used in the plating industry represented a tiny fraction of all commercial uses. It’s estimated that the use of PFOS in the surface finishing industry represented <0.5% U.S. and global PFOS use.
Are plating facilities in the U.S. still using PFOS?
No. The surface finishing industry voluntarily phased out the use of PFOS as a fume suppressant.
When did the surface finishing industry stop using PFOS in the U.S.?
In 2007, the State of Minnesota found PFOS in the wastewater of chromium plating operations. The industry immediately engaged with the state to end the use of PFOS in Minnesota.
In 2008, EPA Region 5 released a study that found PFOS in chromium plating operations’ wastewater effluent in Chicago and Cleveland. NASF proactively approached EPA and began a process that led to the industry itself requesting a national, industry-wide ban from EPA on the use of PFOS in chromium plating operations, which was finalized under a new federal Clean Air Act rule in 2012.
The surface finishing industry is the only industry to have proactively requested and received a ban on PFOS use in a — USEPA regulation. The ban came into full effect in 2015.
The industry has adopted safer, EPA-approved, commercially available alternatives for fume suppression, including both EPA-approved fluorinated and non-fluorinated based alternatives as fume suppressants.
See Timeline of Key Regulatory Events for Surface Finishing
So why is PFOS turning up in wastewater discharge from plating facilities?
As analytical testing technology became far more sensitive, PFOS detection values shrank from parts per million, to billion, to trillion. Tests today can measure the equivalent of a single drop (1 part per trillion or ppt) in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. More sensitive testing revealed trace amounts of legacy residual PFOS in wastewater effluent discharges from some plating facilities, even though the surface finishing industry no longer uses PFOS.