Perfluorinated Carboxylic Acids in Directly Fluorinated High-Density Polyethylene Material

By Amy A. Rand and Scott A. Mabury
Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto, 80 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H6, Canada

ABSTRACT: Perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCAs) are ubiquitous in the environment and have been detected in human blood worldwide. One potential route is direct exposure to PFCAs through contact with polymers that have been fluorinated through a process referred to as direct fluorination. PFCAs are hypothesized to be reaction byproducts of direct fluorination when trace amounts of oxygen are present. The objective of this research was to investigate whether PFCAs could be measured in directly fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles. PFCAs were quantified using Soxhlet extraction with methanol, followed by LCMS/MS analysis. Total concentrations of PFCAs ranged from 8.5 ( 0.53 to 113 ( 2.5 ng/bottle (1 L), with the short-chain PFCAs, perfluoropropanoic, perfluorobutanoic, perfluoropentanoic, and perfluorohexanoic acids, being the dominant congeners observed. Relative PFCA concentrations varied depending on fluorination level. Structural isomers were detected using 19F NMR and are hypothesized to have formed during the fluorination process; NMR data revealed the linear isomer typically comprised 55% of the examined sample. Internally branched, isopropyl branched, and t-butyl PFCA isomers of varying chain length were also identified. Electrochemical fluorination was previously thought to be the only source of branched PFCA isomers. The observation here of branched isomers suggests direct fluorination may be an additional source of exposure to these chemicals. The purpose of this study was to measure PFCAs in directly fluorinated material, serving as a previously unidentified source contributing to the environmental load of PFCAs, with potential for human exposure.