Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are PFAS?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of products, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, food packaging, upholstered furniture, and clothing. They have been manufactured and used in the United States since the 1940s. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals.

What are the health effects?

The main health concerns regarding PFOS, PFOA and related PFAS come from studies in laboratory animals which show effects on the liver and immune system, and on fetal development. Studies also suggest a cancer risk (kidney, testicular), especially for PFOA. PFAS can also affect the endocrine and hormonal systems and can disturb blood lipids which may increase risks for vascular and heart disease.  Studies of human populations exposed to elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA generally support the effects seen in animals. These chemicals are removed from the body very slowly so they can build up over time.

What is the Drinking Water Standard?

There is no federal enforceable standard (Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL) for any chemical in the PFAS family. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Health Advisory in 2016 for PFOS and PFOA of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This target concentration in a water sample is for the sum of these two compounds. The EPA intended for the advisory level to be protective of all health effects (including cancer) for all potential consumers of the water. Some states have set their own drinking water targets based upon exposure assumptions and uncertainty factors that differ from those used by the EPA.

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