Frequently Asked Questions about PFAS
- What are PFAS?
These chemicals are an extensive family of more than 5,000 human-made substances that have commercially useful properties: they resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.
PFAS have been used since the 1950s in a wide range of products, including firefighting materials, non-stick cookware, stain resistant products for furniture and carpets, waterproofing for clothes and mattresses, food packaging, and personal care products. People regularly come into contact with these chemicals because of their everyday use.
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and (PFOA) were once the most commonly produced types of PFAS, and so scientists know the most about these two compounds. Because PFOS and PFOA don't break down in the environment and are a potential health concern, their production has been discontinued in the US. In 2020, EPA finalized a Significant New Use Rule giving EPA the authority to review a list of products containing certain PFAS before they can be manufactured, sold, or imported in the US.
- What Should I know About PFAS and Health?
PFAS chemicals have a range of toxicities and are globally distributed. Studies in the U.S. and worldwide have found small amounts of PFAS in blood samples from the general human population and in wildlife. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is treating PFAS contamination as a public health concern.
Our current knowledge about the health effects of PFAS comes mostly from animal toxicology studies and a smaller number of human epidemiology studies.
Studies using human cells and animals show that certain types of PFAS can lead to negative effects on several different body systems. However, animals and humans have important differences in physiology that can cause them to respond to chemicals differently. Also, laboratory experiments usually use doses of PFAS that are much higher than the average person is likely to experience, so scientists are still learning about the potential health effects of low-dose exposure to PFAS.
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Small decreases in infant birth weights
- Decrease vaccine response in children
- Increase risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
- Increase risk of kidney or testicular cancer
For additional information please visit Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health.
- perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
- perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA)
- perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS)
- What Happens when PFAS get into the Environment?
- Because of their stable chemical structure, PFAS do not easily break down. They travel rapidly to groundwater where they can spread both vertically and laterally. PFAS tend to build up in the food chain and have been found throughout the Arctic, in both animals and plant life, and are suspected to have migrated there through the ocean and the air.
- How Do I Limit my Exposure?