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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals with the unique ability to repel grease and water. PFAS are entirely man-made substances. These chemicals have been used in a variety of manufactured products such as nonstick cookware, grease-resistant paper for food packaging, stain-resistant coating on carpeting, cleaning products, and paints, among others.

Exposure and Risk

The most common exposure to PFAS chemicals is through consumer products, but those exposed due to contaminated drinking water have much higher levels of exposure that far outweigh any consumer product exposure.

However, other pathways of exposure exist for PFAS, including the following:

  • Eating fish contaminated by PFAS.
  • Accidentally swallowing contaminated dust or soil.
  • Eating food in packaging containing PFAS.
  • Using products that contain PFAS (for example, nonstick cookware, stain resistant carpeting, and water repellant clothing).

Research studies on animals have found adverse effects of exposure in liver, thyroid, and pancreas function as well as in hormone levels. Research on two PFAS from today’s consumer products shows that exposures to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have caused tumors in laboratory animals and resulted in reproductive, developmental, and immunological effects. Additionally, there is evidence that exposure to PFAS chemicals can lead to adverse human health effects.

In 2012, the U.S. EPA included six specific PFAS in the list of contaminants to be tested in a testing survey of large public drinking water systems. Public water systems were sampled for PFAS between 2013 and 2015. The Tracking Network has data on

  • Community water systems with exceedances of PFOA and PFOS combined
  • Community water systems with detections of PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFBS, PFHxS, or PFHpA
  • Community water systems that sampled for PFAS chemicals

Health Effects

Many studies have been conducted to look at the health effects of PFOA and PFOS. Some studies in humans have shown exposure to these chemicals may be linked to

  • Increases in cholesterol levels
  • An increased risk for high blood pressure
  • Problems with growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones
  • Immune system problems
  • An increased risk of cancer
  • A lower chance for a woman to get pregnant

Study results have been inconsistent, and scientists are still learning about the health effects associated with exposures from PFAS.

Prevention

You can lower your exposure to PFAS in these ways:

  • If your drinking water is contaminated above levels specified by the EPA or your state government, use an alternate water source for drinking, preparing food, cooking, brushing teeth, preparing infant formula. If you do not know if your water is contaminated, ask your community drinking water provider or local health department.
  • Check with your local or state health and environmental quality departments for advisories in your area and follow the advisories.
  • Even though recent efforts to remove PFAS have reduced the likelihood of exposure, some products may still contain them. If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.

More Information

For more information about PFAS, visit the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry and the Environmental Protection Agency websites.

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