Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), and Related Chemicals (2023)

What are PFOA and PFOS?

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are part of a large group of lab-made chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Some of these chemicals have been in commercial use since the 1940s.

PFAS are very stable and don’t interact much with other chemicals, so they can be helpful in making products that resist oils, stains, water, and heat. PFAS have been used to make non-stick coatings on cookware, as well as protective coatings for products like carpets and fabrics. They have also been used in coatings for paper and cardboard food packaging, firefighting foams, ski wax, and some other products.

PFAS have the potential to be a health concern because they don’t break down easily and can stay in the environment and in the human body for a long time. Studies have found them worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. Higher blood levels have been found in communities where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFAS. People exposed to PFAS in the workplace can have levels many times higher.

Some PFAS, such as PFOA, can be found at low levels in some foods, drinking water, and in household dust. Although the levels in drinking water are usually low, they can be higher in certain areas, such as near industrial plants that have used these chemicals.

Do PFOA and other PFAS cause cancer?

There are many PFAS, but the ones that have been made and used the most in the United States are PFOA and PFOS. While these 2 chemicals are no longer made in the US, people can still be exposed to them (see “What is being done about PFOA and other PFAS?”).

Most of the studies so far that have looked at possible health effects of PFAS have focused on PFOA, mainly because it has been used the most. Many studies have looked at whether PFOA can cause cancer.

Researchers use 2 main types of studies to try to figure out if a substance might cause cancer.

(Video) Forever Chemicals PFAS, PFOA, PFOS, BPA, Explained Clearly

Studies in the lab

Studies in lab animals have found exposure to PFOA increases the risk of certain tumors of the liver, testicles, mammary glands (breasts), and pancreas. While not always the case, well-conducted studies in animals generally do a good job of predicting which exposures might cause cancer in people, too.

Studies in humans

Studies have looked at cancer rates in people living near or working in PFOA-related chemical plants. Some of these studies have suggested an increased risk of testicular cancer and kidney cancer with increased PFOA exposure. Studies have also suggested a possible link to thyroid cancer, but the increases in risk have been small and could have been due to chance.

Other studies have suggested possible links to other cancers, including prostate, bladder, breast, and ovarian cancer. But not all studies have found such links, and more research is needed to clarify these findings.

What expert agencies say

In most cases, the American Cancer Society does not determine if something causes cancer (that is, if it is a carcinogen). Instead, we look to other respected organizations that classify potentially cancer-causing exposures.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). One of its goals is to identify causes of cancer. IARC has classified PFOA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B), based on limited evidence in humans that it can cause testicular and kidney cancer, and limited evidence that it can cause cancer in lab animals.

(For more information on the classification system IARC uses, see Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.)

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substances in the environment. The EPA has not officially classified PFOA as to its carcinogenicity.

(Video) What are Forever Chemicals? (PFAS :PFOA & PFOS)

In a draft (not final) report, the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board examined the evidence on PFOA, mainly from studies in lab animals, and stated that there is “suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity, but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential.” The board agreed that new evidence would be considered as it becomes available.

Other agencies have not yet formally evaluated whether PFOA can cause cancer.

To learn more about how cancer causes are studied and classified, see Determining if Something Is a Carcinogen and Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.

What is being done about PFOA and other PFAS?

The long-term health effects of PFAS are still largely unknown, but there has been enough concern to phase out the use of some of them.

For example, PFOA and some closely related chemicals (such as PFOS) are now no longer made in the US, although they are still made in some other countries and could potentially reach US consumers in certain types of products.

Another potential concern is that other PFAS are now in use. For example, hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO, also known as a ‘GenX’ chemical) is often used to replace PFOA in manufacturing processes, while perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) is used as a replacement for PFOS. New PFAS also continue to be developed. These chemicals haven’t been around long enough for researchers to fully understand if they might have the same (or even different) health effects.

Drinking water

Drinking water is one of the main sources of PFAS exposure for some people. In the US, the EPA regulates contaminants in public drinking water systems.

(Video) PFAS: Pre- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Exposure Risks

The EPA does not enforce limits on the levels of PFAS in drinking water at this time. However, the EPA has established health advisories for some PFAS in drinking water, based largely on the health effects seen in studies of lab animals (rats and mice). As of June, 2022, there are lifetime health advisory levels for 4 PFAS, in parts per trillion (ppt):

  • PFOA: 0.004 ppt
  • PFOS: 0.02 ppt
  • GenX chemicals: 10 ppt
  • PFBS: 2,000 ppt

These advisories are not legally enforceable federal standards. They are meant to provide drinking water system operators, as well as state and other agencies responsible for overseeing these systems, with information on the health risks of these chemicals, so they can take appropriate actions to protect their residents.

In addition, the EPA is now considering establishing drinking water standards for some PFAS, which, if enacted, would set legally enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) of these substances in drinking water.

Foods

Food appears to be one of the main sources of exposure to PFAS for many people. This might be from the food itself (depending on where it’s grown), or from the packaging the food comes in.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of the food supply.

The FDA has allowed certain PFAS to be used on paper or paperboard that could come into contact with food, to help prevent grease from going through them. However, due to questions about the possible effects of some of these PFAS on human health, the FDA is working with manufacturers to phase out these PFAS.

In 2019, the FDA began more widespread testing of different foods for the presence of certain PFAS (including PFOA and PFOS). A small percentage of samples have been found to contain low levels of PFAS, mostly in different types of seafood (although many seafood samples did not contain PFAS). However, in 2022 the FDA reported finding higher levels in some canned clams (particularly in some coming from China).

(Video) PFAS (5 Signs You May Have Been Poisoned by PFAS)

The FDA continues to test different food samples for PFAS and has stated it will use this information to guide its regulatory approach going forward.

Other measures

In 2021, several US government agencies announced new steps to address PFAS in our air, water, and food. This includes the EPA and the FDA, as well as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and several other agencies. The goal is to take a comprehensive approach to research, regulation, and remediation of PFAS contamination.

Should I take measures to protect myself?

There doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid exposure to PFAS completely, as they can be detected in just about everyone’s blood. But understanding how you might be exposed can help you decide if there are steps you want to take that might lower your exposure.

Non-stick cookware: Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from heated cookware with non-stick coatings, there are no proven risks to humans from using these products. While PFAS can be used in making some of these coatings, it is not present (or is present in extremely small amounts) in the final products.

Foods: As noted above, the FDA has detected PFAS in some seafood samples, particularly in some canned clams. For people wondering if they should change what they eat because of this, the FDA still recommends eating a variety of age-appropriate healthy foods, including seafood. Seafood as a part of a healthy diet can provide many nutritional benefits for both children and adults. According to the FDA, people who regularly eat canned clams from China may want to reduce their overall intake until more information becomes available.

Drinking water: Drinking water is a main source of exposure for people in communities with contaminated water. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people whose regular source of drinking water is found to have higher than normal levels of PFOA or similar chemicals might consider using bottled water or installing activated carbon water filters. If you do not know if your water is contaminated, ask your local health department.

Can I be tested for PFAS exposure?

For people who are concerned they might have been exposed to high levels of PFOA or other PFAS, blood levels can be measured, but this is not a routine test that can be done in a doctor’s office. Even if the test is done, it’s not yet clear what the results might mean in terms of possible health effects.

(Video) How to pronounce common 'forever chemicals' (PFAS)

Still, if you have reason to be concerned about your exposure, such as having worked or lived in a place where PFAS exposure was likely, talk to your doctor to learn more about testing and what the results might mean for your health.

FAQs

What is acceptable level of PFAS in drinking water? ›

At least 100 million Americans are drinking water that probably has PFAS levels exceeding the current limit of 70 ppt.

What is the problem with PFAS? ›

A recent review from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines a host of health effects associated with PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

How do you get rid of PFAS in your body? ›

Currently, there are no definitive medical procedures that can clear PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from the body, according to the Secretary of the United States Navy. However, the best step you can take is to remove the source of the exposure from your environment.

Does bottled water contain PFAS? ›

Does bottled water contain PFAS? PFAS have been found in some brands of bottled water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not put enforceable limits in place yet.

How do I know if I have PFAS in my body? ›

A blood test for PFAS can tell you what your levels are at the time the blood was drawn, but not whether levels in your body are “safe” or “unsafe.” Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their body because PFAS chemicals are commonly used in commercial and industrial products.

Does toothpaste have PFAS? ›

Not only in makeup, PFASs were also found in sunscreen, shampoo and shaving cream. This includes some children's products including toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo, and conditioner.

What cosmetic ingredients contain PFAS? ›

Some common PFAS used as ingredients in cosmetics include PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), perfluorooctyl triethoxysilane, perfluorononyl dimethicone, perfluorodecalin, and perfluorohexane.

Does all drinking water have PFAS? ›

Based on our tests and new academic research that found PFAS widespread in rainwater , EWG scientists now believe PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S., almost certainly in all that use surface water.

Can the body rid itself of PFAS? ›

Some PFAS leave the body slowly over time, mostly through urine. People who have kidney disease may not excrete as much PFAS from their body through their urine as healthy individuals. Some PFAS routinely leave the body in blood during menstruation. Those who menstruate may excrete more PFAS than those who do not.

Who is most exposed to PFAS? ›

Workers involved in making or processing PFAS and PFAS-containing materials are more likely to be exposed than the general population. Workers may be exposed to PFAS by inhaling them, getting them on their skin, and swallowing them, but inhaling them is the most likely route for exposure.

How do you remove PFAS from drinking water? ›

Filters containing activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes have been shown to be effective at removing PFAS from water supplies. All water treatment units require regular maintenance to work properly. Water treatment units that are not properly maintained will lose their effectiveness over time.

Can PFAS cause liver damage? ›

A review of more than one hundred studies found that PFAS, synthetic chemicals found in many common products, are linked to markers of liver damage. The findings suggest that PFAS exposure may be contributing to an increased prevalence of liver problems, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Do drinking water filters remove PFAS? ›

Both granular activated carbon (GAC) and reverse osmosis (RO) filters can reduce PFAS substances.

Do Ziploc bags contain PFAS? ›

LDPE does not contain PFAS in the raw material but may contain PFAS cross- contamination from the manufacturing process. LDPE bags (e.g., Ziploc®) that do not come into direct contact with the sample media and do not introduce cross-contamination with samples may be used.

How do I lower my PFAS in my blood? ›

Regular Blood or Plasma Donation May Reduce PFAS Levels in Blood Serum. Regular blood or plasma donation may help reduce levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the blood, according to findings published recently in JAMA Open Network.

How do I know if my drinking water has PFAS? ›

If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, EPA recommends you contact your local water utility to learn more about your drinking water and to see whether they have monitoring data for PFAS or can provide any specific recommendations for your community.

How long does it take PFAS to get out of your system? ›

PFAS tend to remain unchanged in the body for long periods of time. PFOA and PFOS stay in the body for many years. It takes nearly four years for the level in the body to go down by half. PFAS leave the body mainly through urine.

What fast food has PFAS? ›

We'll help you unravel its mysteries. Eight restaurants, including those that tout a healthier menu—Chick-fil-A, Arby's, Burger King, McDonald's, Nathan's Famous, Taco Bell, Sweetgreen, and Cava—“had at least one type of packaging,” that contained PFAS.

Do PFAS cause Alzheimer's? ›

The effects on two biomarkers, tau protein and glycogen synthase kinase-3 beta, suggest that even low doses of PFOS can promote the development of Alzheimer's disease.

What clothing brands contain PFAS? ›

These brands include Macy's, Walmart, Skechers, and Wolverine, the parent company of Hush Puppies, Keds, Merrell, Stride Rite, and others. In particular, the report said, clothing companies that make outdoor apparel are lagging behind when it comes to eliminating PFAS from their clothing.

Do milk cartons contain PFAS? ›

Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill banning perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, generally known as PFAS, in food packaging. Paperboard milk cartons do not contain these chemicals. The paperboard packaging uses a polyethylene coating — no PFAS required. That coating serves a purpose, too.

Does MAC lipstick contain PFAS? ›

Estée Lauder, MAC & Clinique Makeup Will Not Contain Toxic Chemical PFOA - Center for Environmental Health.

Do Brita filters remove PFAS? ›

A new filter cartridge that is compatible with Brita pitchers can remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from drinking water.

Do all humans have PFAS? ›

PFAS chemicals have been found in 99% of the humans tested and are known to cause a long list of cancers, birth defects, infertility, thyroid disease and more. This group of chemicals are “forever chemicals” because they never go away, not from the environment and not from our bodies.

Do I need to worry about PFAS? ›

Research indicates that these chemicals can be dangerous. Exposure to PFAS is linked to cancers, weakened immune systems among children, weight gain, and a wide range of other health problems. PFAS are a public health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does PFAS cause inflammation? ›

Conclusion: Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances are associated with markers of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Increased exposure leads to increase in serum concentration of these markers meaning these chemicals are associated with both chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Where does PFAS accumulate in the body? ›

Lung tissues accumulated the highest concentration of PFASs. However, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid were more prevalent in liver and bone, respectively.

Does PFOA ever leave the body? ›

PFOA leaves the body via the kidneys in urine. PFOA blood levels largely reflect total exposure over many years. However, PFOA levels decline in blood naturally by about half every 2-4 years, assuming there is no additional exposure. This is known as a half-life.

Which dental floss does not contain PFAS? ›

Eco-DenT Floss:

Eco-DenT floss is PFA-free, cruelty-free, and 100% vegan. It's nylon-based, is coated in vegan wax, and comes in a plastic-free container. The box that the floss comes in is actually the dispenser, and it contains no artificial sweeteners, parabens, or colorings.

Can refrigerator water filters remove PFAS? ›

Based on these studies, there currently are three general types of filtration systems that can potentially can reduce PFAS levels in water, if properly maintained: granulated activated carbon – either in refrigerator, faucet, or pitcher filters and some filtration systems installed on your water line; reverse osmosis; ...

What water filter removes PFOA and PFOS? ›

Water filters like ZeroWater's 5 stage filter and ExtremeLife™ Faucet Mount are some of the most effective ways of reducing PFOA/PFOS and other contaminants commonly found in drinking water.

Can PFAS cause autoimmune disease? ›

PFAS exposure is associated with a host of health impacts, including suppressed immune function and a greater risk of autoimmune diseases.

Does PFAS cause kidney stones? ›

Our study shows that total PFCs and PFHS were associated with an increased risk of kidney stones.

Does PFAS cause arthritis? ›

People with the top-25 percent highest blood levels of PFOA were about 20 percent more likely to have arthritis than people in the bottom-25 percent.

Is it better to drink tap water or bottled water? ›

Overall, both tap and bottled water are considered good ways to hydrate. However, tap water is generally a better option, as it's just as safe as bottled water but costs considerably less and has a much lower environmental impact. Plus, with a reusable water bottle, tap water can be just as convenient as bottled.

Can water filter remove PFAS? ›

Both granular activated carbon (GAC) and reverse osmosis (RO) filters can reduce PFAS substances. Both systems provide less water flow than a standard water faucet.

Can PFAS be filtered out of drinking water? ›

Filters containing activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes have been shown to be effective at removing PFAS from water supplies. All water treatment units require regular maintenance to work properly.

Is it OK to shower in water with PFAS? ›

It is safe to shower and bathe in PFAS-contaminated water. Neither routine showering or bathing are a significant source of exposure. Studies have shown very limited absorption of PFAS through the skin.

Does Brita remove PFAS? ›

A new filter cartridge that is compatible with Brita pitchers can remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from drinking water.

Do any refrigerator filters remove PFAS? ›

Activated carbon filters, such as those found in refrigerators and pitcher-style filtration systems, on average removed 73 percent of PFAS contaminants, but the results varied widely. “In some cases, the chemicals were completely removed; in other cases they were not reduced at all,” according to the release.

Does a refrigerator water filter remove PFOA? ›

According to the Duke University study, "Most carbon filters in pitchers, refrigerators and whole house filtering systems do not remove PFAS and some even make them worse."

What bottled water is safe from PFAS? ›

Poland Springs non-carbonated bottled water does not have PFAS.

How long does it take for PFAS to break down in body? ›

It takes about two to four years for half the PFOA in your body to leave through your urine. It may take longer for other PFAS to leave your body. How may I be exposed to PFAS? How can PFAS affect people's health?

Videos

1. 2021 PFAS Solutions Guide Technical Presentation
(United Chemical Technologies)
2. 12 Cancer Causing Foods That You Should Not Eat
(Bestie)
3. ITRC PFAS Naming Conventions & Physical and Chemical Properties
(Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council)
4. Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): Exposure, Toxicity, and Policy
(M-LEEaD)
5. PFAS, explained
(Grist)
6. What are PFAS A guide to understanding chemicals behind nonstick pans
(Stream News)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Neely Ledner

Last Updated: 02/09/2023

Views: 5841

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (42 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Neely Ledner

Birthday: 1998-06-09

Address: 443 Barrows Terrace, New Jodyberg, CO 57462-5329

Phone: +2433516856029

Job: Central Legal Facilitator

Hobby: Backpacking, Jogging, Magic, Driving, Macrame, Embroidery, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Neely Ledner, I am a bright, determined, beautiful, adventurous, adventurous, spotless, calm person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.