- Departments A-L
- Health Department
- PFAS Health Guidance
PFAS Health Guidance
WHAT ARE PER- AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAS)?
According to MassDEP, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. PFAS are widely used in common consumer products as coatings, such as food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, non-stick cookware, ski and snowboard waxes, and more. PFAS are also present in certain types of firefighting foam.
PFAS are water-soluble compounds that do not break down and are nicknamed the “forever chemicals.” PFAS from firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories, and other releases can seep into surface soils. From there, PFAS can leach into groundwater or surface water and can contaminate drinking water. PFAS have also been found in rivers, lakes, fish, and wildlife.
PFAS stays in the environment for a long time and does not break down easily. As a result, PFAS are widely detected in soil, water, air, and food. Some PFAS can accumulate in the food chain. Exposure can occur when someone uses certain products that contain PFAS, eats PFAS-contaminated food, or drinks PFAS-contaminated water. When ingested, some PFAS can build up in the body, and, over time, these PFAS may increase to a level where health effects could occur.
WHERE ARE PFAS SUBSTANCES COMMONLY FOUND?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS can be found in:
- Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
- Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
- Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
- Drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
- Living organisms, including fish, animals, and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.
Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), as a result of phase-outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather, apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber, and plastics.
WHAT HEALTH EFFECTS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH EXPOSURE TO PFAS?
According to MassDEP, studies indicate that exposure to sufficiently elevated levels of certain PFAS may cause a variety of health effects, including developmental effects in fetuses and infants, effects on the thyroid, liver, kidneys, certain hormones, and the immune system. Some studies suggest a cancer risk may also exist in people exposed to higher levels of some PFAS. Scientists and regulators are still working to study and better understand the health risks posed by exposures to PFAS, and MassDEP is following developments in this burgeoning area closely.
MY POTABLE WATER IS SUPPLIED FROM MY OWN PRIVATE WELL. WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ABOUT PFAS AND PRIVATE WELL WATER?
Reference information about PFAS for private well owners can be found here.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PFAS?
- United States Environmental Protection Agency PFAS Resources
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry PFAS Information
- MassDEP PFAS Information and Resources
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health PFAS Information
- MWRA PFAS Information
- American Water Works Association PFAS Resources
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Private Well Drinking Water Supplies FAQ
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in drinking water
Massachusetts Certified Laboratories
Steps to take to reduce your risk-EPA
EPA Private Drinking Water Wells
The Westford Water Departments PFAS page
Westford PFAS Testing Map