Perfluorochemicals – most notably perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and related compounds – have numerous industrial uses. They are highly stable molecules that do not decompose easily in the environment. It has been established that polar bears – the top predators in the Arctic – accumulate appreciable amounts of perfluorochemicals. The acute toxicity of these chemicals is low but possible long-term effects are not known. Therefore scientists are worrying about this situation.

Also, it is up to now unknown, how – via which route – the perfluorinated chemicals have reached the Arctic. Here analytical chemists come to help (Chem. Eng. News Nov 9, 2010). A small amount of isomers is always formed during production of these chemicals. It turns out that different production processes lead to different ratios of the isomers in PFOA. Therefore, by accurately measuring the isotope composition it can be established by which process the particular PFOA found in the environment was made. The researchers led by Jonathan Martin (University of Alberta) have already done extensive profiling of PFOA in rivers, canals and oceans near the different production locations of PFOA and have validated their method. They are now turning their attention to the Arctic. Good luck!

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