Initiatives

Your Source for Information on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are PFAS?

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade fluorinated compounds that are used for a variety of products in industry and residential households. PFAS have been in use since the 1940s and are commonplace in our environment today. These chemicals were used because they are exceptionally resistant to heat, water, and oil.

PFOA and PFOS molecular diagrams
3D model of a PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) molecule, in its acid form. Source: Manuel Almagro Rivas, via Wikimedia Commons.

in 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency set a drinking water health advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion (PPT) for two of the most common types, PFOS and PFOA. Since then, the EPA has been pressured to set a maximum containment level (MCL) for PFAS, but that has yet to happen. Because of public health concerns, some PFAS compounds were phased out of production in the US. Although those concentrations have since decreased substantially, PFAS are still present in some products.

PFAS in Our Environment

PFAS compounds are now found everywhere in our environment. Major sources of PFAS are:

Household Products

Production Facilities

Food

Where We Live

Household dust containing PFAS has been found to be 10,000–50,000 PPT over the EPA threshold for drinking water. However, it is unclear whether PFAS enters the human body by inhaling contaminated dust. For now, the main route of exposure appears to be from eating and drinking contaminated foods (or water-to-crop transfer). The Environmental Research & Education Foundation estimates that the average person consumes 146–600 nanograms of PFAS per day through food consumption and dust intake.

Reducing PFAS in the Environment

The most significant and effective action that can be taken to reduce PFAS in the environment is to remove these chemicals of concern from the stream of commerce and pursue cleanup and remediation at highly contaminated sites. Source reduction and pollution prevention can serve as the most efficient means of addressing the persistent background presence of PFAS and effectively limit exposure to PFAS going forward.

PFAS Producers Are Not the Same as PFAS Receivers

Receivers are facilities who receive PFAS as a result of their processes. Recievers convey and/or manage traces of PFAS coming into their systems daily.

  • Drinking water treatment systems
  • Wastewater treatment facilities
  • Municipal solid waste landfills

Producers are those companies who utilize PFAS in their processes. To stop the true sources of PFAS, it is imperative to:

  • Discontinue production (both domestic and foreign) at manufacturing facilities
  • Find safer alternatives for heavy use areas such as firefighting training sites

Landfills and Waste Combustors as Receivers of PFAS

It is vital for EPA to recognize that municipal solid waste landfills and waste combustors are not producers or users of PFAS. They do not utilize or profit from PFAS chemicals. Rather, they are receivers of these chemicals used by manufacturers and everyday consumers, and merely convey and/or manage the small quantities of PFAS coming into their systems. Receivers of PFAS residuals and wastes should not be subject to nor assume the same level of responsibility as PFAS manufacturers. As long as PFAS are elements of products used in our everyday lives, and background levels persist, these chemicals will continue to be found in receiver streams.