PFAS are used to make everyday products that resist heat, water, oil, grease, and other stains.
Because they do not break down easily, PFAS levels in humans can build up over time.
Human PFAS exposure can have negative health impacts, such as high cholesterol and cancer.
PFAS are a group of over 9,000 chemicals commonly used to (ATSDR, 2019; EPA 2022):
They are also used in the aerospace, auto-motive, and construction industries.
PFAS in landfills can leak into the soil and enter groundwater. These chemicals are not filtered out by traditional water treatments (EPA, 2021). PFAS can also be released into the air when burned (DOH, 2022).
PFAS are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they break down very slowly over time, which allows them to build up in people’s bodies and the environment (AAAS, 2022).
Human Exposure to PFAS: Most Americans have measurable PFAS levels in their blood, but these levels are not necessarily associated with negative health effects (Lewis, 2015). Most people are exposed to PFAS by (ATSDR, 2019):
Showering poses no significant exposure risk unless contaminated water is ingested (ATSDR, 2019).
Workers who are exposed to PFAS at their workplace may be at a higher risk of PFAS exposure than the general public. Occupations that are known to expose workers to higher levels of PFAS include (CDC, 2022):
Health Effects of PFAS Exposure: Some PFAS can take years to leave the body, allowing PFAS to build up (ATSDR, 2019). High levels of exposure to certain types of PFAS may lead to (ATSDR, 2022):
Difficulties in PFAS research: Researchers are still investigating the health effects of PFAS. It is difficult to track how PFAS exposure occurs and how it leads to disease because:
For example, two of the most common and well-studied PFAS chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—have recently been phased out in the U.S. and replaced with other PFAS which have been researched less (ASTDR 2022).
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Actions: In June 2022, the EPA released new health advisories for the maximum level of safe exposure for four PFAS chemicals in drinking water (Table 1) (AAAS, 2022). These advisories serve as a guide to assist government officials and are not enforceable.
The EPA has taken several steps to address PFAS including:
Reducing Individual PFAS Exposure: Individuals concerned about PFAS exposure should reach out to their local water utility or get their water tested in a state-certified laboratory using EPA-developed tests (EPA 2, 2022). When PFAS are present above advisory levels, individuals can consider installing a filter, or changing water sources for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth (ATSDR 2019).
Table 1. EPA health advisories in part per trillion (ppt). (AAAS, 2022)
|PFAS Chemical||2016 Health Advisories||2022 Health Advisories|
|PFOA||70 ppt||0.004 ppt|
|PFAS||70 ppt||0.02 ppt|
|hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) compounds (“GenX chemicals”)||N/A||10 ppt|
|perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and potassium perfluorobutane sulfonate (“PFBS”)||N/A||2,000 ppt|