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Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s and are (or have been) found in many consumer products like cookware, food packaging, and stain repellants. The first PFAS were invented in the 1930s and were the main ingredients in nonstick and waterproof coatings, according to the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC). Development of these chemicals increased in the late 1960s after a deadly fire aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, in 1967. The fire resulted from the accidental launch of a rocket into armed planes and loaded fuel tanks. This blaze nearly destroyed the ship and killed more than 130 people. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS. PFAS may be released into the air, soil, and water, including sources of drinking water. PFOA and PFOS are the most studied PFAS chemicals and stopped being produced in the United States in the early 2000s, though they are still present in the environment.
PFAS can be found in:
There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health issues in humans. If humans, or animals, ingest PFAS (by eating or drinking food or water than contains PFAS), the PFAS are absorbed and can accumulate in the body. PFAS stays in the human body for long periods of time. As a result, as people get exposed to PFAS from different sources over time, the level of PFAS in their bodies may increase to the point where they suffer from adverse health effects.
Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies. The most consistent findings from human studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:
If you have specific health concerns, please consult your healthcare professional.
There are a variety of ways that people can be exposed to these chemicals and at different levels of exposure. For example, people can be exposed to low levels of PFAS through food, which can become contaminated through: