Edited By : Amy Edel
This page features 13 Cited Research Articles
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What Are the Health Effects of PFAS?

Known as “forever chemicals,” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are used in many chemical and manufacturing processes. Humans can be exposed to PFAS in the air, food, water, dust, soil, food wrappers, cosmetics and personal care products. PFAS have been associated with serious health effects including cancer, organ damage and endocrine disruption.

While more research is needed to confirm some specific causal relationships, human studies have established statistically significant associations between PFAS and the following health conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer, including prostate, kidney and testicular
  • Cardiometabolic disease
  • Decreased vaccine response
  • Developmental delays
  • Thyroid and hormone disruption
  • Liver effects
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Immunotoxicity
  • Kidney damage
  • Low birth weight
  • Preeclampsia
  • Reproductive issues

A link between PFAS exposure and Type 2 diabetes has also been identified. A recent review shows strong evidence connecting PFAS with increased glucose levels and insulin resistance in people with additional diabetes risk factors. A person’s gender and the type of PFAS they were exposed to appear to affect these associations.

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Who Is at the Highest Risk of PFAS Health Effects?

Scientists have not pinpointed all the populations who are vulnerable to PFAS. Sensitive populations likely include the immunocompromised (like people with autoimmune diseases) or those with health conditions such as liver disease or cancer.

Children may be more sensitive to PFAS because their exposure is higher per pound of body weight. Crawling infants and toddlers may be at exposure risk from household dust, toys, cleaning products or carpets.

Pregnant and nursing women tend to drink more water, increasing risks from PFAS-contaminated water. PFAS may pass to the fetus through the umbilical cord. Breastfeeding mothers may transfer PFAS through breastmilk, though experts say breastfeeding benefits outweigh possible dangers. Baby formula made with water containing PFAS may expose infants to PFAS.

Health Effects of Different Types of PFAS Exposure

While research about effects of specific types of exposure is ongoing, as the White House explained in a recently released fact sheet: “PFAS are a set of human-made chemicals that can cause cancer and other severe health problems, pose a serious threat across rural, suburban, and urban areas, and that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities. PFAS are considered ‘forever chemicals’ because they are environmentally persistent, bioaccumulative, and remain in human bodies for a long time.”

A recent National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety study reported that skin exposure to a type of PFAS – PFOA – poses the same health hazards as ingesting the compound in water and food. The FDA tests the food supply for contamination and has found, for example, that certain types of fish contain high levels of PFAS.

The Environmental Protection Agency also investigates food and water sources while studying the lifecycle of PFAS. The EPA is working to identify PFAS hazards to human health, assess environmental impacts and hold polluters responsible.

What to Do if You Come in Contact With PFAS

Speak to your doctor if you suspect PFAS exposure. A blood test can help measure your levels. However, this is not a clinical test and cannot confirm if or how PFAS will affect your health. Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies.

It may be difficult to avoid PFAS exposure, but there are ways to limit further risks. For example, some EPA or state-certified laboratories provide information on test kits you can use to test your drinking water. While there’s debate about the effectiveness of water filters, many states recommend filtration systems if the groundwater is contaminated. Check with your state for specific recommendations.

If you’ve been exposed, you may also consider seeking compensation for pain, suffering and medical bills as a result of PFAS. Thousands of PFAS lawsuits are being filed because of diagnoses of serious illnesses, including cancer, thyroid issues and kidney damage, as a result of exposure. An experienced personal injury lawyer can review your case for free, explain the process and help you weigh the best options.

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making decisions about your health or finances.
Last Modified: November 21, 2023

13 Cited Research Articles

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  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2022, November 1). Talking to Your Doctor About Exposure to PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/talk-to-your-doctor.html
  2. Espartero, L.J.L. et al. (2022, September). Health-related toxicity of emerging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances: Comparison to legacy PFOS and PFOA. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935122007587?via%3Dihub
  3. Roth, K. & Petriello, M.C. (2022, August 5). Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and type 2 diabetes risk. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2022.965384/full
  4. Ward-Caviness, C.K. et al. (2022, July 14). Associations between PFAS occurrence and multimorbidity as observed in an electronic health record cohort. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9374186/
  5. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2022, July 6). Questions and Answers on PFAS in Food. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/process-contaminants-food/questions-and-answers-pfas-food
  6. The White House. (2022, June 15). FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Combatting PFAS Pollution to Safeguard Clean Drinking Water for All Americans. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/15/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-combatting-pfas-pollution-to-safeguard-clean-drinking-water-for-all-americans/
  7. Minnesota Department of Health. (2022, June 9). Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/hazardous/docs/pfashealth.pdf
  8. Minnesota Department of Health. (2022, May 24). Testing Your Blood for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Retrieved from https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/hazardous/docs/pfas/indbltest.pdf
  9. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, March 16). Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas#
  10. Beck, I.H. et al. (2019, November 15). Association between prenatal exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and asthma in 5-year-old children in the Odense Child Cohort. Retrieved from https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-019-0541-z#:~:text=Results,%25%20CI%201.03%2C3.23
  11. Ohio Department of Health. (2020, February 11). PFAS and Sensitive Populations. Retrieved from https://epa.ohio.gov/static/Portals/28/documents/pfas/PFASSensitivePopulations.pdf
  12. Environmental Working Group. (2020, January 13) Study: PFAS Exposure Through Skin Causes Harm Similar to Ingestion. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/study-pfas-exposure-through-skin-causes-harm-similar-ingestion
  13. Public Health Madison & Dane County. (n.d.). PFAS Health Effects & Ways to Reduce Exposure. Retrieved from https://www.publichealthmdc.com/environmental-health/environmental-hazards/pfas/pfas-health-effects-ways-to-reduce-exposure#drink