What Are PFAS?

The Impact of PFAS: PFOS, PFOA, and Forever Chemicals

“Forever chemicals”—you may have heard this term before, but did you know that these highly toxic fluorinated chemicals afflict nearly 99% of Americans, contaminate drinking water supply systems, and pose health risks through even the smallest amounts of exposure?

Today, we will be discussing the impact of PFAS—including the most notorious PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA—and why business owners and the general public should care about PFAS pollution.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) consist of man-made chemicals including PFOA, PFOS, and other fluorochemicals. They have been manufactured and utilized in various industries worldwide, including within the U.S. since the 1940s.

Research has shown that there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. In addition, their chemistry—specifically their incredibly strong carbon-fluorine bond—prevents them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions. As a result, when PFAS enter the environment, they can build up and linger on geologic time scales—thus earning them the name “forever chemicals.”

The most notorious PFAS include PFOA (the Teflon chemical) and PFOS (an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard). These were phased out in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency after their hidden hazards were revealed, but they are still permitted in items imported to the U.S.

Where Can PFAS be Found?

PFAS can be found in many materials and locations, including:

  • Living organisms such as humans, animals, and fish. PFAS can accumulate and persist over time within these organisms.
  • Food items that have been packaged in materials containing PFAS, processed with equipment using PFAS, or grown in PFAS contaminated water or soil. For example, PFAS are widely used to coat paper and cardboard wrappers for baked goods and fast food items.
  • Commercial household products including nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), stain and water-repellent fabrics (such as Gore-Tex jackets), paints, cleaning products, waxes, polishes, and fire-fighting foams—a significant contributor to groundwater contamination at military bases and airports.
  • Drinking water, typically isolated to a location associated with a specific facility (e.g., landfills, wastewater treatment plants, manufacturers, and firefighter training facilities).
  • Workplaces, including production facilities or industries which use PFAS (e.g., electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, and chrome plating).

Why Business Owners & The Public Should Care About PFAS 

Beyond the sheer ubiquity of these forever chemicals, PFAS are startling due to the adverse human health effects they pose. Numerous studies indicate that PFOA, PFOS, and closely related PFAS chemicals are linked to:

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

People can be exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways and at varying levels of exposure. For example, individuals may be exposed to low levels through:

  • PFAS-contaminated food
  • Disposal or biodegradation of consumer products containing PFAS
  • Using commercially treated products containing PFAS
  • Working at PFAS production facilities or in occupational settings with contaminated air
  • Drinking water that has been contaminated with PFAS

Industrial facility owners and operators—particularly those at manufacturing plants, oil refineries, airfields, or other locations where PFAS may have been used—must be especially aware of their impact. PFOA, PFOS, and GenX have all been found in various drinking water systems due to localized contamination.

Let Vision Environmental Help You Mitigate PFAS Pollution

At Vision Environmental, we specialize in Hazardous Waste Disposal, Remediation and UST Closure, and Health and Safety Compliance. Clients trust us to help them meet their goals for waste disposal and environmental compliance at the local, state, and federal levels.

If your site is at risk of PFAS pollution, don’t delay. Contact us online or call us at (732) 589-7085 to discuss how we can help you today.