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Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. Their ability to repel water and oil and withstand high temperatures has made PFAS a particularly useful ingredient in industrial and commercial products, including non-stick products, stain- and water-repellent clothing and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals do not easily break down in the environment and have been known to accumulate in the environment and humans. In a nationwide study, low levels of PFAS were determined to be present in the blood of most Americans. Two PFAS, perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), are the most extensively studied of these chemicals.
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Currently, there is limited regulatory authority of PFAS at the federal level. In 2016, the EPA issued a non-enforceable Lifetime Health Advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water. EPA is expected to update its advisory in late 2022.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has proposed drinking water and groundwater standards for 18 PFAS compounds. These standards are based on recommendations that DHS established in 2019 and 2020. To learn more about how groundwater standards are developed, visit the DHS groundwater standards website at dhs.wisconsin.gov and search “groundwater standards”.
For more information on groundwater standards, visit The Department of Natural Resource’s page NR 140 groundwater quality standards update.
The proposed drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS was changed from 20 ppt to 70 ppt to reflect EPA’s 2016 health advisory, but this change does not impact DHS’ health-based recommendations. DHS concluded that EPA’s health advisory of 70 ppt does not reflect the latest science on health effects of PFOA and PFOS – particularly those on the immune system – and it does not adequately estimate exposure risks to infants. DHS recommends that everyone take action when levels of PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water are above 20 ppt.
Although PFAS have been used extensively since the 1950s, experts are only beginning to understand their potential impacts on human health. This understanding continues to evolve based on ongoing research. Two of the most studied PFAS chemicals are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA). Current studies suggest that exposure to high levels of PFOS and PFOA may:
Scientists are still learning about the health effects from exposures to mixtures of PFAS. For more information, visit the CDC's PFAS and Your Health website and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) PFAS webpage.
The major routes of exposure to PFAS are:
Additionally, limited exposure may occur from consumer products:
*Research has shown that today's consumer products usually have low amounts of PFAS, especially when compared to levels found in contaminated drinking water. However, small exposures to PFAS are possible when a person comes in contact with or uses products such as:
If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.
Because PFAS are found at low levels in some foods and in the environment (air, water, soil, etc.) completely eliminating exposure is unlikely. However, certain actions can be taken to reduce your overall exposure to PFAS, including the following.
*Recent federal efforts to remove PFAS from consumer products have reduced the likelihood of exposure in consumer products; however, some products may still contain them. If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.
PFAS do not easily enter the body through the skin. Therefore, touching or having skin contact with water, products or packaging containing PFAS is not a major source of PFAS exposure. Even if your water supply contains PFAS, it is still safe to use it for showering, bathing, and washing hands. However, when bathing infants and children, be sure to monitor them and discourage swallowing of bath or shower water.
If your municipal or private well water has PFAS levels at or above DHS health advisory levels:
A blood test can measure PFAS in your blood, but this is not a test routinely done in a doctor's office. While it is possible to get your blood tested for PFAS, test results will only tell you how much PFAS is present in your blood and not whether your health has been, or will be, affected by PFAS. At this time, the scientific understanding of PFAS is not sufficient to determine health risks based on the level of PFAS in a person's blood. Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their body because PFAS are commonly used in many consumer and industrial products.
If you have specific health concerns or would like to have your blood tested, please talk with your doctor. Some of the health effects possibly linked to PFAS exposure, like high cholesterol, can be checked as part of your annual physical. It is important to have regular check-ups and screenings.
Additional information on blood testing can be found on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) PFAS Blood Testing page. You can also read their Talking to Your Doctor about Exposure to PFAS fact sheet. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially PFOS and PFOA. During 2013-2014, the general population had, on average, below 5 micrograms per liter, or µg/L, of PFOA in their blood. In comparison, in 2000, highly exposed workers in PFAS manufacturing facilities had average measurements of more than 1000 µg/L of PFOA in their blood. As the production and use of PFOS and PFOA in the United States has declined, their levels in blood have gone down as well. From 1999 to 2014, blood PFOA levels among the general U.S. population have declined by more than 60% and blood PFOS levels have declined by more than 80%. For more information on PFAS blood level trends in the U.S., please read the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) fact sheet on PFAS in the U.S. Population. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Contact the Wisconsin Department of Health Services by emailing DHSEnvHealth@dhs.wi.gov.
DHS PFAS Information
DHS PFAS Filtration Brochure
DNR PFAS Information
DNR Fish Consumption Advisories
ATSDR: PFAS and your health
ATSDR: Talking to your doctor about exposure to PFAS
EPA PFAS Information