What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. Included in this group are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), the two most produced and studied PFAS. Used in a variety of industries around the world, many PFAS are persistent in both humans and the environment, and do not readily break down over time.

Why Do We Test for PFAS?

LCMSFound in a dizzying array of consumer products, most people in the United States have been exposed to one or more PFAS. Current scientific evidence suggests exposure to these chemicals can have adverse health effects for humans. Known health effects associated with PFOA and PFOS include: increased cholesterol levels, effects on the immune system, certain cancers, thyroid hormone disruption and low infant birth weights.

Because PFAS may be released into the air, soil and water (including drinking water sources), it’s important to understand the level of exposure in both humans and the environment around us. While PFOA and PFOS have received a lot of attention, here at Vista, we can analyze up to 45 different PFAS compounds and our list is continually growing. Still, this only scratches the surface.

As we work to understand the complexity behind these compounds, continuing to test what is in our air, water and soil is more imperative than ever.

Our PFAS Experience is Deep

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Environmental samples processed
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PFAS compounds that we are currently accredited to analyze
0
Vista employees
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sq. ft. state-of-the-art Facility

Our experience with high resolution mass spectrometry and isotope dilution quantitation have given us a leg-up with PFAS testing. By the time most other labs turned their attention to PFAS, we already had years of experience refining our procedures and gaining valuable expertise in this complicated class of compounds.

0+
Environmental samples processed
0
PFAS compounds that we are currently accredited to analyze
0
Vista employees
0
sq. ft. state-of-the-art Facility

Our experience with high resolution mass spectrometry and isotope dilution quantitation have given us a leg-up with PFAS testing. By the time most other labs turned their attention to PFAS, we already had years of experience refining our procedures and gaining valuable expertise in this complicated class of compounds.

Sample Matrices

Since we first developed a method for analyzing PFOS in human serum in 2007, we have extracted and analyzed tens of thousands of environmental samples for PFAS. Today, we continue to focus our expertise on testing difficult matrices.

Drinking Water Drinking Water
Most studies on non-worker exposures to PFAS have focused on drinking water as have most existing regulations by various states.
Wastewater Ground Water
PFAS contamination can seep into the groundwater from areas where firefighting foam was used, discharge from factories or runoff from landfills.
Visible Water Surface Water
Lakes, rivers, ponds and streams can be contaminated through surface water runoff, or seepage from groundwater.
Soil and Sediment Soil & Sediment
Soils around the world have been contaminated by PFAS and is a challenging issue due to the differential chemical bonding with soil and sediment depending on the compound.
Ground Water Wastewater
PFAS in wastewater at POTWs can originate from a variety of industrial processes and consumer products.
Fertilizer moved with tractors Biosolids
PFAS have been found in wastewater sludge across the country. Much of this sludge is processed into biosolids and applied to agricultural lands. Due to the challenging nature of this matrix and Vista’s expertise in analyzing biosolids, other labs frequently send their biosolid samples to us to complete.
Fire fighting foam Firefighting foams (Aqueous Film Forming Foam – AFFF)
Commonly used as a firefighting agent, legacy PFAS used in AFFF has been linked to various cancers and is a major source of groundwater contamination.
Waterproof fabrics Fabrics
Many fabrics today have a waterproof coating and may still contain PFAS.
Food wrapper around fries Manufactured products
Fast food wrappers and paperboard typically have a protective layer to keep oils from seeping out of the containers. Fluorotelomer alcohols are often used and are a known precursor to other PFAS of concern.
School of fish Fish & Mammalian Tissue
Accumulation of PFAS in wild fish and mammals expose the prevalence of this compound and represent a risk to other wildlife and those species that are used for human consumption.
Milk glass and milk jar Milk (Human & Bovine)
PFAS has been found in several dairies around the country as well as in human breast milk.
Water plants Plant Tissue
The potential uptake of PFAS in plant tissue, particularly when biosolids are land applied as fertilizer, has become a hot topic and is being studied around the country.
Blood biological fluids Serum and Biological Fluids
Vista began analyzing for PFAS in human serum in 2007 before most people were aware of the issue. Today, we analyze for up to 24 PFAS for private individuals, law firms, NGO’s and civilian and military firefighters.
  • Drinking Water
  • Ground Water
  • Surface Water
  • Soil & Sediment
  • Wastewater
  • Firefighting foams
    (Aqueous Film Forming Foam – AFFF)
  • Biosolids
  • Fabrics
  • Manufactured products
  • Fish & Mammalian Tissue
  • Milk (Human & Bovine)
  • Plant Tissue
  • Serum & Biological Fluids
  • Drinking Water
  • Ground Water
  • Surface Water
  • Soil & Sediment
  • Wastewater
  • Firefighting foams
    (Aqueous Film Forming Foam – AFFF)
  • Biosolids
  • Fabrics
  • Manufactured products
  • Fish & Mammalian Tissue
  • Milk (Human & Bovine)
  • Plant Tissue
  • Serum & Biological Fluids

PFAS Sample Methods & Process

In our long history as a laboratory testing PFAS, we’ve learned how to proficiently handle, extract and clean-up samples with large variations in concentrations and interference levels. Without an approved EPA method for non-drinking water matrices, our laboratory has performed hundreds of Quality Control experiments to optimize our analytical procedures. For example, we added an optional centrifuge step for those samples high in suspended particulate. We also currently include nineteen 13C-labelled standards with our isotope dilution method, which increases accuracy and is the gold standard for quantitative chemistry.

  • PFAS Compound Classes

  • Preservation Methods for Different Matrices

  • Branched & Linear Isomers

  • Total Oxidizable Precursor (TOP) Assay

PFAS Compound Classes Preservation Methods for Different Matrices
For a comprehensive list of the 45 different PFAS compounds we test, please click here. If you’d like more information on the specific containers, preservation, and holding times for different matrices, please refer to this table.
Branched & Linear Isomers Total Oxidizable Precursor (TOP) Assay
Early data for many of the water systems around the country only quantified the linear form of PFAS. This ignored the branched forms that can exist for many PFAS and underreported the concentrations of these compounds. Vista quantitates and reports the linear and any branched isomers and can even quantitatively report these separately for five PFAS and qualitatively for the rest of the target PFAS. While many groups across the country have put pressure on the EPA to standardize the TOP Assay method, there has been no published method to date. In the meantime, many labs either not do perform this analysis or only offer it for very simple, clean matrices. Using the procedure from a 2012 research paper, we can approximate the amount of unknown PFAS precursors that may biotransform to PFCAs and PFSAs of concern. This information is potentially useful for predictive modeling of an impacted site or for evaluating a treatment technology.

Our Experience is Your Quality Assurance

Everything by the bookCurrently, there are no nationally recognized methods for testing for PFAS in matrices other than drinking water, and only the vaguest of regulations. While we wait for national standards, we continue to mine the very best of Vista’s deep bench of degreed scientists and stringent adherence to best practices to give you the best results.

Over our years of testing for PFAS, our involvement with helping our clients meet state-specific regulations and working with municipal, state and federal agencies has grown consistently. Because Vista analyzes samples from coast to coast, we keep up to date on PFAS regulations in all 50 states.

Despite what you might have been led to believe, testing for PFAS is not straightforward. For example, many of our standard laboratory materials can contain PFAS and the instrumentation can as well. Because of this, we’ve taken great care to modify our instrumentation and laboratory equipment so they do not contribute background contamination to the sample results.

Everything by the book

Currently, there are no nationally recognized methods for testing for PFAS in matrices other than drinking water, and only the vaguest of regulations. While we wait for national standards, we continue to mine the very best of Vista’s deep bench of degreed scientists and stringent adherence to best practices to give you the best results.

Over our years of testing for PFAS, our involvement with helping our clients meet state-specific regulations and working with municipal, state and federal agencies has grown consistently. Because Vista analyzes samples from coast to coast, we keep up to date on PFAS regulations in all 50 states.

Despite what you might have been led to believe, testing for PFAS is not straightforward. For example, many of our standard laboratory materials can contain PFAS and the instrumentation can as well. Because of this, we’ve taken great care to modify our instrumentation and laboratory equipment so they do not contribute background contamination to the sample results.

Accreditations

Here at Vista, we continually assess available accreditations at the state and federal level to ensure that our methods are not only approved by the appropriate agencies for where the sampling is taking place, but also to ensure that our quality systems and methodologies incorporate the latest guidance from across the ever evolving regulatory landscape.

For more information about Vista’s Accreditations, please visit our Quality Assurance Page or follow the links below:

Timeline 1950s Today Teflon, Scotchgard
and other products
with PFAS compounds
come on the market
Analyzed over 30,000
samples and counting
1990 Established our first
lab as Alta Analytical
2007 Alta sold the pharmaceutical
division and became Vista
2007 Vista first developed
PFOS method for
human serum
2013 Environmental work began;
Vista now has three dedicated
LC-MS/MS instruments
2011
Vista became a woman-
owned, small business
2016
EPA issued a lifetime
health advisory for PFAS
Vista and PFAS

FAQs

Currently, the industry does not have an EPA standardized method to cite for testing for PFAS for matrices other than drinking water. At this time, we use an Isotope Dilution Method we developed at Vista.

We do perform the EPA Method 537.1 for the analysis of drinking water samples. For other matrices, we have made several enhancements to the method that include the optimization of the Solid-Phase Extraction (SPE) to minimize interferences and the utilization of isotopically-labeled compounds to increase accuracy. We can also perform our procedure so that it is compliant with DoD QSM v5.3, Table B-15 when required.

To be clear, this is not a method, but it is a set of requirements that must be met when reporting PFAS data to Department of Defense (DoD) or US Department of Energy (DOE).

Some differences between the EPA Method 537.1 and DoD QSM include:

  • Use of isotope dilution
  • Instrument calibration and tuning
  • Instrument blank
  • Area count comparison
  • Method blank: ½ LOQ or 1/10 limit
  • Standard recoveries 50-150%
  • Sample cleanup and extraction
  • Ion transitions

Besides proper retention time, correct mass, and sufficient response (signal-to-noise), we monitor for two ion fragments using tandem mass spectrometry for confirmation of PFAS in your sample. This gives you increased confidence in your final analysis.

Contact us for a quote! We will send you a sample kit for collection and instructions on shipping it back to our laboratory. We’ll analyze it using the appropriate method based on the sample matrix and let you know the results. Please refer to these guidelines when collecting your sample for analysis. Proper collection is the first step to achieving trustworthy results.

For questions regarding anything you’ve read here about Vista and our methods for analyzing PFAS, please contact one of our qualified specialists and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Find Out More About PFAS

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