Welcome to the RMWQAA Website! 

Persistent PFASs

21 Mar 2019 10:18 PM | Natalie Love (Administrator)

PFASs or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances have become a growing concern over the last decade due to widespread use and persistence in the environment and in the human body. According to the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. The most common types of PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), however, there are many other forms which are not studied as well and used throughout the world.  They can be found in non-stick cookware, water repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foams, and products resistant to grease, water, and oil. The widespread production and use of PFAS contributes to its ubiquity not only in the environment, but also leads to its accumulation and persistence in the human body.

Environmental exposure to PFAS could occur through multiple methods from contact with the manufacturing process, usage, and disposal of PFAS products. For example, surface water or groundwater and the surrounding soil becoming contaminated after receiving run-off in areas where firefighting foam was used. According to the EPA, human exposure can occur through daily usage of popular consumer products such as cookware, stain repellants, and even pizza boxes. A major concern with PFAS exposure is its persistence and ability to stay in the environment and in living organisms for a long period of time. As a result of repeated exposure, the amount of chemical in the bodies of humans and animals alike can accumulate and lead to adverse health effects.

Researchers have been studying the adverse health effects in animal models to better understand how these chemicals cause toxicity and what organ systems are being affected. Studies indicate that the PFAS can disrupt endocrine activity, reduce immune function, and can cause adverse effects on multiple organs including the liver, kidneys, and pancreas (NIH, 2019). Epidemiological studies with humans, though limited, have shown an increase in cholesterol levels, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption (EPA, 2019). Although more research is needed to fully understand the health risks and impacts of PFAS, actions have been taken to limit the exposure to these chemicals.

The EPA lowered the non-binding health advisory limit for some PFAS compounds found in public water systems. However, because of the growing concern that these chemicals may cause adverse effects to human health at lower levels, further action was taken to reduce exposure in some states. In Fountain, Colorado, the EPA announced the first-ever comprehensive nationwide PFAS action plan. The plan consists of expanding PFAS monitoring in the environment, enhancing scientific research for addressing PFAS by developing new analytical methods and tools, and clarifying clean up strategies. Furthermore, two chemical classes of PFAS have been phased out of industry in the United States, PFOA and PFOS, and the EPA is working to list these chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund Program (ATSDR, 2018). Future strategies and regulations include recommendations in the clean-up of the persisting PFOA and PFOS levels in groundwater and expanding limitations to other chemical classes of PFAS.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2018 January 10). Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and your health. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/overview.html

Brady, J., Hurdle, J. Phillips, S. (2019 February 14). EPA says it plans to limit toxic PFAS chemicals, but not soon enough for critics. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/02/14/694660716/epa-says-it-will-regulate-toxic-pfas-chemicals-but-not-soon-enough-for-critics

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (2019, March 8). Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pfc/index.cfm

United States Environmental Protection Agency (2019 February 13). News release: EPA to announce first-ever comprehensive nationwide PFAS action plan in Fountain, Colorado. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announce-first-ever-comprehensive-nationwide-pfas-action-plan-fountain-colorado

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information on PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas#main-content

Ashley Romero is the Laboratory Manager at GEI Consultants, Inc. and has a background in ecotoxicology.

© Rocky Mountain Water Quality Analysts Association
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software