Font Size:

PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances)

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are thousands of chemicals belonging to a single chemical class. PFOA, PFOS, and GenX are PFAS that have become notorious drinking water contaminants as a result of industrial releases and use of firefighting foam. But PFAS may also be used in a wide range of products, from food packaging to stain-resisitant furniture, and our exposure comes from multiple sources and routes.

With their remarkable persistence and mobility - they are not known to break down in the environment and they move through soil to drinking water - PFAS have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife. Because of this, many scientists refer to them as "forever chemicals."

What products contain PFAS?
  • paper packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags and takeout packaging, including wrappers, bags, bowls and other containers;
  • stain-resistant carpets, rugs and furniture;
  • sprayab;e stain protectors;
  • non-stick cookware;
  • outdoor gear with a "durable water repellant" coating;
  • aerospace, medical and automotive applications; and
  • many specialty items such as firefighting foams, ski wax and industrial applications.

How am I exposed?

We are exposed to PFAS from food, from indoor air and dust, and in many cases from drinking water. Food, air and water have become contaminated globally as a result of manufacturing releases and use of PFAS-containing products. PFAS can build up in crops, fish and livestock, ultimately contaminating the food we eat.
  • The main way people are exposed to theses chemicals is by swallowing them. PFAS can be swallowed along with the water or food, from there they can enter the blood stream.
  • Touching products made with PFAS or touching water that contains PFAS is not the main way people are exposed to these chemicals. The PFAS chemicals do not easily absorb into the skin.
Why should I be concerned?

PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment and some of them build up in people and animals. They can migrate out of consumer products into household dust and air, are released by industries, and contaminate drinking water and food. Once they are in our bodies, they stick around- with half-lives in people of up to eight years. Nearly every U.S. resident has PFAS in his or her body, with biomonitoring studies finding PFAS in blood, breast milk, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, placenta and other tissues.

Exposure to these compounds has been linked to a number of health concerns:
  • Cancer: PFAS indice tumors in laboratory animals, and the International Agency for Reasearch on Cancer has designated PFOA as a carcinogen based on epidemiological evidence linking exposure to kidney and testicular cancer.
  • Hormone disruption: Laboratory tests indicate numerous PFAS affect hormone production and response, with effects on estrogen production and response, thyroid hormone signaling, and on receptors involved in regulation of fat metabolism. People exposed to higher levels of PFAS have higher total and LDL cholesterol.
  • Liver and kidney toxicity: PFAS are associated with multiple effects on liver and kidney, including liver lesions, kidney degeneration, and damage to liver function.
  • Harm to the immune system: research has identified the immune system as sensitive to PFAS in both laboratory and epidemiological studies. A 2012 study of 587 children found those with greater exposure to PFAS had significantly poorer responses to vaccines.
  • Reproductive and developmental toxiciity: Laboratory tests associated PFAS expsoure with decreased survival of young, disrupted reproductive cycles and impaired growth of the uterus and ovaries. In addition, a number of large epidemiological studies have related higher maternal exposure to PFAS to lower birth weight. A study published in April 2020 reported that PFAS exposure form drinking contaminated water was associated with a higher chance of low birth weight, pre-term birth, and lowered general fertility, and that the differences moderated after PFAS was filtered from water, providing evidence of a causal link between PFAS and reproductive impacts.
What is being done about this issue?

PFAS have been produced, used, and disposed of essentially without regulation for the last half-century, but retailers and federal, state, and local governments have begun to take action. State and local agencies are actively working to obtain more information about PFAS as quickly as possible. Michigan has set drinking water statndards to protect residents from PFAS in water. Additional testing is ongoing, which will help us answer more questions and determine next steps. Visit MADE SAFE's website to view products that have been certified as free of PFAS and other toxic chemicals.