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Contaminant of Emerging Concern: Per- and Polyfluroalkyl Substance (PFAS)

Per and Polyfluroalkyl Substance (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals are found in almost every American homes. This is because they have been used in a variety of consumer and industrial applications. PFAS has been in existence since the 1940’s but is gaining much attention recently due to it adverse impact on human health and the environment. One major attribute of concern about the PFAS chemical is that it breaks down very slowly and has the tendency to accumulate in humans, animals, and the environment over time. 


Health Risk Associated with PFAS

According to the U.S. EPA, there have been significant research evidence showing the adverse health effects associated with human exposure to PFAS. For example, if humans eat or drink food or water contaminated by PFAS, the chemicals are absorbed and have the tendency to accumulate in the human body and stays there for a long period of time – potentially leading to adverse health problems.  Several studies have link PFAS chemicals to:

  • Low birth weight
  • Reproductive problems
  • Weakened childhood immunity
  • Weight gain in children and dieting adults
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Cancer including: Testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer


Where are they Found?

  • Food – PFAS can be found in food placed in PFAS-containing material, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water. PFAS chemicals are commonly used to coat paper and cardboard wrappers for fast food and bakery goods. 
  • Commercial Household Products – PFAS are found in everyday consumer products including stain and water repellent fabrics, nonstick products such as: lubricants, paints, pizza boxes, popcorn bag, polishes, waxes, cleaning products, nonstick cookware etc.
  • Workplace – PFAS can be found at facilities that manufacture products made of PFAS or at PFAS production industries including: chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery. 
  • Drinking Water – PFAS can be found in localized areas or with specific facilities like landfills, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facilities, and manufacturing companies. 
  • Living Organisms - like fish, animals, and humans.  In each of these, PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.


How Are People Exposed to PFAS

Some PFAS are persistent in the environment, and people are exposed to them in a variety of ways and at different exposure levels including;

  • Consumer Products – PFAS are found in a wide range of every day consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain resistant carpeting, and water repellant clothing etc. Most people are exposed to these chemical unknowingly via the daily use of these products. 
  • Food – Eating food grown or raised with PFAS contaminated water or soil exposes on to PFAS. For example eating fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS (PFOS, in particular) or food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS such as popcorn bags, fast food containers, pizza boxes etc. 
  • Breastfeeding and Contaminated Toddler Food – Babies born to mothers exposed to PFAS can automatically be exposed to the chemical during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. However, according to research, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the risk of infant exposure to PFAS in breastmilk. Therefore, it is recommended that mothers should continue to breastfeed. Infants and toddlers can also be exposed to PFAS through formula mixed with PFAS contaminated water. 
  • Air – One can get exposed to PFAS by inhaling PFAS contaminated dust. Dust can be contaminated by particles and fibers from carpets, fabric, and other PFAS treated products including some kinds of fabric spray. 
  • Water – One can be exposed to PFAS by drinking PFAS contaminated municipal water or private well water and through contaminated water use to grow food.


Common Items with PFAS

Common Items with PFAS  
An egg being cooked in a cast iron skillet. A burger and fries being served in a basket.
A person in a snow suit blowing snow in a field. A bag of popcorn being cooking in a microwave.


How to Protect Yourself from PFAS Contamination

  • Properly and safely dispose of old products
  • Check ingredients on cosmetics for PFAS 
  • Checkout your cookware
  • Avoid microwave popcorn and fast food wrappers
  • Products labelled stain and water resistant may most likely have PFAS chemicals. Stay away from them. 
  • Research your rugs and carpet before purchase. If it stain resistant, there likely possibility of some form of PFAS – given it that characteristics. 
  • Protect your pet and livestock. If you discovered PFAS risk in your drinking water, use the same precautions for your animals as you did for yourself.  
  • Research about a lake, or river before you swim or fish in it. 


What We Do to Protect Oklahomans

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OCES) in collaboration with the Trihydro Cooperation and other environmental organizations like the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) offers an annual workshop on PFAS contamination in water, waste water and solid waste systems. Below you may find more information about our next training. 


Federal Government Resources


State Government Resources


State Resources


Other Resources

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