PFAS Health Effects
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that are fire resistant, and repel oil, stains, grease, and water.
These compounds do not change or break down easily, and, as a result, they are very widespread in the environment and can be found in air, water, and soil. In recent years, experts have become increasingly concerned by the potential effects of high concentrations of PFAS on human health.
How People are Exposed to PFAS
Although some PFAS are no longer used, many are still in production and almost everyone has been exposed to these chemical compounds. PFAS are in firefighting foams, stain repellants, nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing and shoes, fast food wrappers, personal care products, and many other consumer goods.
Because these compounds are so widely used and because they move in groundwater and surface water, PFAS are also in some drinking water supplies.
Localized high concentrations of PFAS contamination can be found near facilities that manufacture products with PFAS, areas that were used for firefighting training, and some landfills.
How PFAS Affect Health
Research is on-going to understand the effects PFAS might have on health. Some PFAS have been studied more than others (specifically PFAO and PFOS) and scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to combinations of PFAS.
Having PFAS exposure or PFAS in your body does not mean you will necessarily have health problems now or in the future, but there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes.
Some studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS can increase the potential risk of several adverse health conditions including:
- Affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- Lower a person’s chance of getting pregnant
- Interfere with the body’s natural hormones
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Affect the immune system
- Increase the risk of cancer
Using available research, health advisory levels and water standards are set at a level to protect people, including sensitive populations like people who are pregnant and babies, from these health effects.
Breastfeeding and PFAS
PFAS can be passed to a baby through breast milk. Based on current research, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks for infants exposed to PFAS in breast milk. Parents should talk to their doctor if they have concerns about breastfeeding and PFAS.
How to Reduce Exposure to PFAS
Both granular activated carbon and reverse osmosis filters can reduce PFAS in water.
When amounts of PFAS in water are higher than the Wisconsin Recommended Groundwater Enforcement Standard level of 20 parts per trillion, we recommend the use of bottled water or a filtration system certified to reduce PFOS and PFOA for drinking, cooking, making baby formula or food, washing fruits or vegetables, brushing teeth, or feeding pets.
Follow Dane County Fish Consumption Advisories
Dane County fish consumption advisories are in place because fish caught in Dane County contain chemicals like mercury and PCBs. The Department of Natural Resources tested fish from the Yahara River chain of lakes in 2020. Test results showed PFOS levels that are above the recommended health standards. Following the fish eating guidelines for Dane County will reduce PFAS/PFOA exposure.
Reduce Use of Products that Contain PFAS
Thousands of PFAS chemicals are in production across the United States. Some specific PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States but are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods. To reduce PFAS exposure:
- Check product labels for ingredients that include the words "fluoro" or "perfluoro."
- Be aware of packaging for foods that contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers and boxes.
- Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments to these or other items. Choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.
- Avoid or reduce use of non-stick cookware and stop using products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.