You might not know what PFAS are, but if you live in the United States, there's a good chance they're in your tap water. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of over 4,700 man-made chemicals that are used in a variety of industries, from non-stick cookware to firefighting foams. They're also found in many common household products, like carpets, upholstery, and food packaging. While PFAS are stable and resistant to heat, water, and oil, they can also be dangerous to human health.
How Do PFAS Get Into Tap Water?
PFAS enter the environment when they're released into the air or water during manufacturing or when they're used in products like carpeting and upholstery. They can also enter the environment through wastewater discharge from factories that use them. Once they're in the environment, PFAS can stay there for a long time—they're resistant to degradation by sunlight and bacteria. As a result, they can build up in the bodies of fish, animals, and humans over time.
What Are the Health Risks Associated with PFAS?
Because PFAS can build up in the body over time, exposure to these chemicals has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:
Cancer: Some types of PFAS have been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, like testicular and kidney cancer.
Reproductive and developmental problems: Exposure to PFAS has been linked to reduced fertility, early menopause, low birth weight, and other developmental problems. These effects are thought to be due to the ability of PFAS to interfere with hormones in the body.
Thyroid problems: Studies have found that exposure to certain types of PFAS is associated with an increased risk of thyroid disease.
* Elevated cholesterol levels: Several studies have found an association between exposure to PFAS and elevated cholesterol levels. In some cases, this may lead to an increased risk of heart disease.