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Frequently Asked Questions About PFAS, PFOA and PFOS

Updated: Jul 3, 2023




What are PFAS?

  • Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of chemicals widely used in heat-resistant, oil-resistant, stain- and water-resistant products.

  • Products containing PFAS include: nonstick cookware, instant food packaging and pizza boxes, stain and water repellent fabrics (including clothing and carpet) and other Scotchgard, Gore-Tex and Teflon brand names. They are also used in fire fighting foams (a major source of groundwater pollution at airports and military bases).

  • PFAS was invented in the 1940s and has been widely used since the 1950s and 1960s. Currently, there are more than 7,800 PFASs.

  • PFAS are extremely stable in the environment and in the human body, which means they do not break down and can accumulate over time. For this reason, some scientists call it "permanent chemicals."

  • As new technologies advance, chemists are now able to detect PFAS at very low levels (parts per trillion (ppt)), enabling them to discover more and more of them. They are widely found in soil, air, groundwater, wastewater discharges and landfills. They were also found in the blood of 95 percent of those tested.

What are PFOA and PFOS? Are they harmful?

  • While there are thousands of PFASs, there are only two of the most talked about, used, researched, and regulated PFAS in the United States: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

  • PFOA is a probable human carcinogen that, based on limited evidence, is considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to cause testicular and kidney cancer.

  • If the body ingests PFAS through eating or drinking, these PFAS can accumulate in the body. PFAS accumulates in the body for a long time, and the content is getting higher and higher, and may eventually reach a level that causes adverse health effects on people.

  • Studies have linked the following conditions to high levels of PFOA and PFOS in the body:

    1. Pregnancy-induced hypertension/pre-eclampsia

    2. Liver damage

    3. High cholesterol

    4. Thyroid disease

    5. Reduced response to vaccines

    6. Weakened fertility

    7. Lower birth weight

  • Additionally, studies have found that an increased risk of asthma is also associated with high levels of PFOA and PFOS in the body.

How are you exposed to PFOA, PFOS and other PFAS? Are they present in water?

  • People can be exposed to PFOA and PFOS through a variety of routes, including consumer products that contain these chemicals, foods that come into contact with these chemicals, and drinking water that is affected by these chemicals.

  • The impact of PFOA and PFOS on groundwater is a growing concern.

  • These chemicals come from manufactured goods, are widely found in or near manufacturing plants, landfills, and fire training grounds (used in firefighting foam), are not readily and environmentally decomposable, and are widely used in consumer products worldwide. Chemicals sometimes accumulate near these sites and enter the water cycle through runoff and wastewater, raising their levels in wastewater discharges and groundwater.

How to reduce the risk of exposure to perfluoroalkane compounds at home?

  • Do not use consumer products that contain perfluoroalkane compounds.

  • If your tap or well water contains PFAS, use bottled water for drinking or cooking, or install an activated carbon water filter.

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