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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are PFAS and how can I be exposed?

PFAS are a large class of chemicals manufactured for their heat, water, and stain-resistant properties. Because of these useful properties, PFAS are used in a wide variety of industrial and commercial applications, and applied to many consumer products.

PFAS do not break down easily and can be transported long distances in water. As a result, they are widely distributed in the environment and most people have been exposed to PFAS from one or more sources.

Some of the primary sources of PFAS exposure include:

  • drinking contaminated water,
  • eating contaminated food,
  • contacting PFAS-containing consumer products (e.g., waterproof clothing or rain gear, non-stick cookware, or stain-resistant fabrics used for carpeting or furniture).

Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) used to extinguish petroleum and chemical fires contains PFAS. Use of these foams at airports and fire training centers is a source of environmental contamination that can impact nearby drinking water sources.

How can PFAS affect human health?

Scientists are still learning about the health effects of long term PFAS exposure. Although more research is needed, studies conducted in highly exposed communities have shown that certain PFAS may have effects on the:

  • Gastrointestinal System
    Ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract)
  • Liver
    Liver damage, abnormal fat metabolism, high cholesterol
  • Kidney
    Kidney cancer and chronic kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular system
    High blood pressure in pregnant women
  • Immune system
    Decreased response to vaccines
  • Reproductive system
    Testicular cancer and decreased fertility
  • Endocrine system
    Thyroid disease
  • Development
    Reduced birth weight

The potential for an individual to experience adverse health effects from PFAS exposure is dependent on many different factors. These include the degree and duration of exposure and individual factors such as the person’s age, lifestyle choices, and underlying health status.

Questions about the health impacts of PFAS?

Information for Healthcare Providers

Other Agency Resources

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