PFAS is an acronym that refers to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are man-made chemicals that are widely used for their properties, such as being resistant to heat, water, and oil. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to some form of PFAS in your life. They came into mainstream use in the 1950s and are often used in products such as:
- Non-stick cookware (ex. Teflon)
- Stain resistant fabrics and carpeting
- Waterproof clothing (ex. Used to waterproof boots - Scotchgard, Gore-tex)
- Firefighting foams (ex. used near air bases or airports)
- Personal care products, like shampoo
The two PFAS that were most widely made in the United States were PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid). Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a lifetime health advisory level for these two PFAS chemicals in drinking water. Current scientific evidence and recent reports from the CDC suggest health advisory levels should be much lower. Industry has moved away from producing and using PFOA and PFOS. Other PFAS are more widely used today, including:
- perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
- perfluordecanoic acid (PFDeA)
It is estimated that there are over 4,700 types of PFAS worldwide. The EPA does not currently have lifetime health advisory levels for these other PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Equality has initiated statewide testing for PFAS in drinking water from community water supplies. Current results are publically available.
PFAS can also be found in well water. If you have a private well, please obtain testing to ensure drinking water safety.
What if my water supply is contaminated with PFAS?
Avoid ingestion of PFAS contaminated water. Do not use it for drinking, cooking, or washing food. Use bottled water instead, until the water is tested and deemed safe. At this time, there is limited data on the potential health effects of skin exposure to PFAS contaminated water.
What are other ways I can be exposed to PFAS?
PFAS are used in numerous consumer products. They are used in non- stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics and carpeting, waterproof clothing, food packaging like fast food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags, as well as some shampoos and soaps. It’s best to avoid these products when possible.
Because PFAS contamination has been detected in many water sources, fish are also a notable dietary exposure. Avoid eating fish from bodies of water known to be contaminated with PFAS.
What are some possible human health implications related to PFAS?
We know PFAS has been detected in human blood samples and that the PFAS compounds can build up in tissues. At this stage, it is hard to determine direct links between human disease and PFAS exposure, however, some studies in people have shown that exposure to certain PFAS may:
- Affect growth, learning, and behavior in infants and older children
- Affect fertility (lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant or a man’s chance of impregnating a woman)
- Interfere with natural hormone levels in the body
- Affect the immune system (making certain vaccines less effective, especially in children)
- Increase risk of certain types of cancer (ex. kidney cancer, testicular cancer)
- Increased risks of high cholesterol and hypertension
Scientists are trying to determine what level of exposure to PFAS may result in human health impacts.
- Information about PFAS Testing (State of Michigan)
- State of Michigan PFAS Resources (State of Michigan)
- “Eat Safe Fish” Resources (State of Michigan)
- PFAS and Your Health (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
- PFAS Factsheet
Compiled by Ashley DeHudy, MD
Updated by Sydney Ryckman, MD, January 2022