WHAT ARE PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals that have been used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products since the 1940’s due to their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat. The FDA has authorized specific PFAS for use in specific food contact applications. Some PFAS are used in cookware, food packaging, and in food processing for their non-stick and grease, oil, and water-resistant properties. The FDA’s authorization of a food contact substance requires that available data and information demonstrate that there is a reasonable certainty of no harm under the intended conditions of use.
PFAS Can Be Found in Many Places
PFAS can be present in our water, soil, air, and food as well as in materials found in our homes or workplaces, including:
- Drinking water – in public drinking water systems and private drinking water wells.
- Soil and water at or near waste sites - at landfills, disposal sites, and hazardous waste sites such as those that fall under the federal Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act programs.
- Fire extinguishing foam - in aqueous film-forming foams (or AFFFs) used to extinguish flammable liquid-based fires. Such foams are used in training and emergency response events at airports, shipyards, military bases, firefighting training facilities, chemical plants, and refineries.
- Manufacturing or chemical production facilities that produce or use PFAS – for example at chrome plating, electronics, and certain textile and paper manufacturers.
- Food – for example in fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS and dairy products from livestock exposed to PFAS.
- Food packaging – for example in grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers.
- Household products and dust – for example in stain and water-repellent used on carpets, upholstery, clothing, and other fabrics; cleaning products; non-stick cookware; paints, varnishes, and sealants.
- Personal care products – for example in certain shampoo, dental floss, and cosmetics.
- Biosolids – for example fertilizer from wastewater treatment plants that is used on agricultural lands can affect ground and surface water and animals that graze on the land.
WHY ARE PFAS A CONCERN?
PFAS in drinking water is an important emerging issue nationwide. Because PFAS are water soluble, over time PFAS from some 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 stay in the environment for a long time and do 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.
How PFAS Affect People’s Health
Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain. 
Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:
- Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
- Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
- Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
- Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
- Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
- Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.
Epidemiologic studies on PFAS exposure evaluated several health effects. Descriptions of these studies are available at: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/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.
- Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Combatting PFAS Pollution to Safeguard Clean Drinking Water for All Americans (2022)
- Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Launches Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution (2021)
- Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications
- EPA Drinking water health advisories for PFAS fact sheet for communities
- Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Drinking Water Regulations Quick Reference Guide
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers
- Story map of Mass DEP addressing PFAS Contamination
 Graphic from https://riversideca.gov/press/understanding-pfas