Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a group of man-made compounds that mainly contain carbon-fluorine bonds. Other chemical names for this group include perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), perfluoroalkyls, perfluorinated alkyl acids, and long-chain perfluorinated chemicals. PFASs are used in hundreds of consumer and industrial applications including in carpeting, apparel, upholstery, and food paper wrappings for stain resistance. They are also used in cooking for non-stick surfaces on pans. In addition, PFASs are used in foams for fire-fighting and in the metal plating industry to suppress fumes during the chrome plating of automotive bumpers, wheels, and other parts.

Common PFASs

chemical structure of P F O A

   perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

chemical structure of P F O S

        perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)

While their usefulness makes PFASs hard to live without, there are a few down sides. PFASs are resistant to degradation and are very persistent in the environment. They have been shown to bioaccumulate (concentrations increase in blood and organs over time). Previous studies have associated PFASs with adverse health effects such as higher cholesterol, low birth weight, delayed onset of puberty, and reduced immunologic response to vaccines in animals as well as cancer, liver disease and other health problems.

People can be exposed to PFASs through drinking water if their water source is contaminated with PFASs. And in fact, the USEPA has issued a 70 parts per trillion (ng/L) health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS. A health advisory is a non-regulatory notice to state agencies that provides technical information on the health effects, analytical methods, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contaminants. EPA’s health advisories are based on the best available peer reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory animals (rats and mice) and were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to PFASs.

People can also be exposed to PFASs eating food prepared, packaged, or processed with equipment that contains PFASs or if the food is grown in soil or water that is contaminated with PFASs. In addition, PFASs can be an occupational health hazard if someone works in a PFASs production facility or uses PFASs in the production process. Firefighters that use foam fire suppressants will also be exposed to PFASs.

Read more about PFASs on the USEPA’s website.

firefighters spraying foam on a buildingnon-stick frying pan