What Are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of toxic and invisible man-made chemicals — short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemical substances — that are used commonly in everyday consumer products, manufacturing and industry, and in firefighting foams.

You will also hear PFAS referred to as “forever chemicals” because they were designed to be indestructible, made by one of the strongest bonds known in organic chemistry (carbon-fluorine bonds). Because of this, they accumulate easily, stick around in our environment, and are very persistent in our bodies.

Even the smallest amount of PFAS chemicals pose serious risks to us and our environment — so small that most commonly PFAS are measured in parts per trillion (1 PPT = a single drop of PFAS in an Olympic size swimming pool).

It is important to know that when we are talking about PFAS we are referring to a class of chemicals. This means that PFAS is the category of chemicals, and within that category are thousands of other specific fluorinated chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, GenX, etc.

There are a variety of ways that people can be exposed to toxic PFAS, including exposure to products containing PFAS and ingestion of PFAS contaminated food or water. 

Health experts are most concerned about people ingesting PFAS. This includes not only drinking water that is contaminated with PFAS, but also consuming food contaminated by PFAS. Ingestion is the most common route of exposure for all Americans, so it is important to be aware of any PFAS contamination sites within your community. 

Though much of the public concern is around ingestion, it is important to know that PFAS can also be inhaled and absorbed through the skin.