PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances)

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large group of manmade chemicals that repel oil and water. They have been used since the 1940s to make products water-, grease-, and stain-resistant. Some PFAS take centuries to break down in the environment. This is why they are called “forever chemicals.” Some PFAS break down and form other PFAS. PFAS that don’t break down build up in and pollute the environment.

People can be exposed to PFAS by eating food, drinking water, accidentally ingesting dust, or breathing air polluted with PFAS. PFAS can also build up in our bodies. While more research is needed, studies have shown certain PFAS can contribute to negative health effects.

Health Risks

Nearly everyone has a low level of PFAS in their blood. PFAS can build up in the body and increase to the point where it can harm health.

While more research is needed, studies have shown certain PFAS cause negative health effects. Exposure to PFAS has been linked with a variety of health effects, including:

  • Higher cholesterol levels, 
  • Lower infant birth weights,
  • Weakened immune response, and
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.

Sources of Exposure

Most exposure to PFAS comes from eating or breathing. PFAS are not easily absorbed through the skin. Children younger than two years old are at the highest risk from PFAS exposure. This is because they are exposed to more PFAS than adults and because their bodies are still developing.

People are exposed to PFAS by:

  • Eating food packaged in PFAS-containing material,
  • Eating foods that have built up PFAS over time,
  • Drinking PFAS-contaminated water,
  • Using a PFAS-containing consumer product, like accidentally swallowing PFAS-containing lipstick while wearing it,
  • Accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust, or
  • Breathing contaminated air.

What You Should Do

You can take simple steps to reduce exposure to PFAS:

  • Avoid grease-resistant food packaging, such as microwavable popcorn bags, 
  • Replace non-stick cookware with safer alternatives, such as cast iron or stainless steel, and 
  • Test drinking water from private wells.

When possible, avoid purchasing products advertised as water-, grease-, and stain-resistant. When these products are thrown away and then burned, composted, or sent to a landfill, PFAS can enter the environment.

Reduce the risk of common health problems
PFAS exposures may contribute to common health problems, like heart disease and infections. People concerned about possible exposures should focus on well-known steps to reduce those health risks, such as:

  • Eating healthy,
  • Exercising, and
  • Seeing their doctor for regular check-ups.

If you think there is a source of PFAS in your neighborhood or workplace: