Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is the name for a group of thousands of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. Exposure to PFAS chemicals from products and the environment over long periods of time may cause harmful health effects.
PFAS chemicals have been used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. During their production, use, and disposal, PFAS can enter the soil, water, and air. Most PFAS do not break down, so they stay in the environment for long periods of time. PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world. Learn more about how PFAS can impact your health and how to reduce exposure.
PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate) have been the most widely produced and studied of these chemicals. PFOA and PFOS have been phased out by industry but may persist in the environment. Many other PFAS compounds are still manufactured and used in commercial and industrial applications in the United States and other countries.
For more information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency PFAS webpage.
Research suggests that exposure to PFAS from today’s consumer products is usually low, especially when compared to exposures to contaminated drinking water. But here are some common ways a person can be exposed to PFAS:
- Drinking PFAS-contaminated water.
- Eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS.
- Using some consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain resistant carpeting, and water repellant clothing.
- Eating fish caught from PFAS-contaminated water or eating PFAS-contaminated wild game.
- Accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust.
Studies show that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through your skin. Showering and bathing in water containing PFAS should not significantly increase exposure. Washing dishes in water containing PFAS should not increase exposure.
Examples of products that may contain PFAS:
- Some grease-resistant paper, fast food or take out containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers
- Nonstick cookware
- Stain resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics
- Water resistant clothing
- Cleaning products
- Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)
- Paints, varnishes, and sealants
PFAS in workplaces
Workers involved in making or processing PFAS and PFAS-containing materials are more likely to be exposed than the general population. Examples of industries that may use PFAS include metal plating, electronics manufacturing, paper milling, and oil recovery. Workers may be exposed to PFAS by inhaling them (the most common route of exposure), getting them on their skin, and swallowing them.
PFAS can build up in people who have been repeatedly exposed to them and may cause harmful health effects. Current research involving humans suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to the following health effects:
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Decreased vaccine response in children
- Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women
- Small decreases in infant birth weights
- Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer
The CDC and other scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to PFAS. For more information, visit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) PFAS webpage.
Based on current science, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks for infants exposed to PFAS in breast milk. Nursing mothers should contact their health care professional to discuss the risks and benefits of breastfeeding.
For more information about breastfeeding and PFAS, please visit:
- CDC - Breastfeeding and Environmental Exposures
- Office on Women’s Health - Benefits of Breastfeeding
Infant formula should not be prepared with drinking water that has high levels of PFAS. An alternate source of water, such as bottled water, should be used for formula preparation.
PFAS contamination in drinking water is typically caused by a localized release of PFAS chemicals that enter drinking water from sources that manufacture, use, or dispose of PFAS. Currently, PFAS are not required to be monitored in public drinking water systems in Idaho under the Safe Drinking Water Act. For more information about PFAS regulation, see the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) PFAS in Drinking Water webpage and select “Unregulated Contaminants.”
PFAS Health Advisories
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. A health advisory is a non-enforceable standard that provides protection from harmful health effects for a lifetime of exposure and is based on the best available science. Currently, the Idaho DEQ follows EPA’s health advisory for PFAS.
EPA issued its PFAS Action Plan in 2019 and is in the process of developing more guidance and research on PFAS.
If the PFOA or PFOS level in your drinking water is above the health advisory level of 70 ppt, consider using alternate sources of water for drinking or installing a point-of-use treatment device, such as a reverse osmosis system. Visit NSF.org for filtration devices that can remove PFOA and PFOS.
PFAS chemicals cannot be removed from water by boiling.
DHW, DEQ, and other local and federal partners are coordinating to assess the presence of PFAS in the environment in Idaho. This includes identifying locations where PFAS chemicals may have been used and determining if the levels in water, air, or soil are a concern for human health. As partner agencies continue to learn more, they will communicate with any impacted communities to address public health concerns.
For more information, see DEQ’s PFAS in Drinking Water webpage.
Because PFAS are at low levels in some foods, consumer products, and the environment (air, water, soil, etc.), completely eliminating exposure is unlikely.
You can reduce your exposure to PFAS:
- If your drinking water has PFOA/PFOS above the EPA health advisory, use an alternate water source for drinking, preparing food, cooking, brushing teeth, and any other activity when you might swallow water. If you use a private well for drinking water, it is the well owner’s responsibility to ensure the water is safe to drink. For more information on testing and treating drinking water, see above or visit the Idaho DEQ’s PFAS in Drinking Water webpage.
- Currently, Idaho does not have any fish consumption advisories for PFAS. When eating fish, follow guidance from the Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory to reduce exposure to contaminants. The advisory will be updated if specific PFAS-contaminated water bodies and fish are identified.
- Some consumer products may still contain PFAS. Read consumer product labels and avoid using those with PFAS.