The regulation of PFAS varies around the world, with some countries banning certain types of PFAS altogether, while others have established limits on their use or set maximum acceptable concentrations in drinking water. In the United States, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a non-enforceable lifetime health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water, while in the European Union, the use of some PFAS has been restricted or banned altogether. Similarly, in Canada, Health Canada has established guidelines for PFAS in drinking water, while in Australia, the government has established a voluntary phase-out program for some PFAS and restricted their use in firefighting foam.

PFAS regulations in Europe

The use of PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and LC-PFCAs is restricted as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) under the  -the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants implemented in the European Union (EU).  

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Implemented a mechanism under Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) to protect human health and the environment from risks posed by chemicals. Under this restriction, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden submitted a proposal to restrict perfluorinated carboxylic acids (C9-14 PFCAs) including their salts and precursors, with the exception of essential uses in January 2023. This advance notice enables interested parties to plan and/or prepare comments on the intention to the adoption of the final opinions by the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) and the Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC), and the adoption of the restriction by the European Commission.  This means there will be some time before a ban is in place and there is time for stakeholders to comment and plan , but time is running out. 

A number of PFAS are on the REACH Candidate List of substances of very high concern (SVHC). Some of these PFAS are identified as SVHC based on persistence, mobility, and toxicity and pose a risk to human health and wildlife when they go through the environment (including through drinking water).

There are already bans in the EU on use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) in firefighting substances.  PFOS in firefighting foams have been banned since 2011. About 20 percent of industry converted to fluorine free fire suppression and 80 percent still use fluorinated shorter chain foams (i.e., GenX and ADONA).  Firefighting foams containing PFOA were restricted as of 2017 and phase out must be completed by July 4, 2025.  As of March 24, 2023, RAC has adopted the proposal to restrict the placing on the market, use and formulation of all PFAS in firefighting foams, after sector-specific transition periods.  Transition periods are proposed for each sector ranging from 18 months for firefighting training to ten years for establishments storing hazardous substances . 

PFAS regulations in USA

In the United States, several states have promulgated or proposed legislation to limit or ban PFAS in its entirely in advance of federal regulations. One notable example is the state of Maine, which recently passed a first-in-the-nation law that prohibits products made with intentionally added PFAS chemicals. The law will take effect 2030, but companies are required to report their PFAS uses starting January 1, 2023. This deadline has led to hundreds of companies filing for a six-month extension to report their PFAS usage. 

At the federal level, US Environmental Projection Agency (EPA) proposes to classify seven PFAS and their related salts as hazardous substances. Meaning upon a release a responsibly party is subject to reporting and clean up under the Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as the Superfund law). Once a substance is classified as a “hazardous substance” under CERCLA, the EPA can force responsible parties of a release to either cleanup the polluted site or reimburse the USEPA for the remediation of a contaminated site.  USEPA has also proposed a law to report PFAS in products at any concentration rather than any amount greater than 1% or 10,000 mg/kg.  USEPA is beginning to regulate discharge permits to surface water to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Programs for PFAS as well as planning to set maximum contaminant levels for drinking water for six PFAS compounds. PFOA and PFOS are proposed as low as 4 nanograms per liter. 

PFAS regulations in Latin America and Asia

Regarding Asia and Latin America, PFAS are currently poorly regulated. Some countries have restricted PFOS or PFOA in line with the Stockholm Convention listing, but most PFAS substances remain unregulated. However, this situation will evolve in the coming years as PFAS pollution becomes an urgent environmental and health issue.

In 2009, Japan listed perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and its salts as a Class I Specified Chemical Substance under the Chemical Substances Control Law (CSCL) and PFOS is subject to export restriction under the country’s Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law per the Stockholm Convention. In 2020, Japan set a temporary target value of 50 nanograms per liter [50 parts per trillion (ppt)] for PFOS and PFOA, for drinking water and also banned the manufacturing and use of both PFOS and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and related salts.