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. These chemicals are used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and chemical reactions and repel oil, stains, grease and water. PFAS chemicals include PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
PFAS are found in people, fish and wildlife all over the world. Some PFAS do not break down easily and therefore stay in the environment for a very long time, especially in water. Some PFAS can stay in people’s bodies for a long time.
You may be exposed to PFAS in drinking water, food, indoor dust, some consumer products, and workplaces. Most non-worker exposures occur through drinking contaminated water or eating food that contains PFAS. Although some types of PFAS are no longer used, some products may still contain PFAS, including:
- Food packaging materials
- Nonstick cookware
- Stain-resistant carpets and fabrics
- Water resistant clothing
- Cleaning products
- Paints, varnishes and sealants
- Firefighting foam
PFAS are known to cause risks to human health. The new EPA health advisories tell us that health effects might occur at lower levels than EPA previously thought. Health risks depend on the specific chemical you are exposed to, how much of the chemical you are exposed to, for how long, and during which life stage(s) you are exposed. Some populations are especially sensitive to PFOA and PFOS including babies, children who are developing, and people who are pregnant or might become pregnant. The lower your exposure to PFAS, the lower your risk of negative health outcomes. Exposure to PFAS may result in a wide range of negative health outcomes, including:
- developmental effects including to fetuses after exposure during pregnancy or postnatal development (for example, decreased birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations, development of the immune system)
- cancer (for example, testicular, kidney)
- liver effects
- immune effects (for example, decreased antibody response to vaccination, decreased immune response)
- thyroid effects and other effects (for example, cholesterol changes)
Vermont's health advisory level for the sum of five PFAS should not exceed 20 ppt (parts per trillion) in drinking water. The five PFAS chemicals are:
- PFHxS (perfluorohexane sulfonic acid)
- PFHpA (perfluoroheptanoic acid)
- PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid)
If your water has been tested and the total sum of the five PFAS is more than 20 ppt, we recommend not using your water for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, preparing baby formula, or any other manner of ingestion. Use bottled water instead or water from a known safe source. Do not use water containing the five PFAS over 20 ppt to water your garden. The PFAS could be taken up by the vegetables.
In June 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the health advisory level for PFOA to 0.004 ppt and PFOS to 0.02 ppt. These levels are below what can be detected in water using current technologies.
PFOA Contamination in Drinking Water Response
In early 2016, the State initiated an investigation and response regarding PFOA contamination of drinking water wells in Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont. Learn about the PFOA response