What are PFAS?

"Poly Whats?"

PFAS = Per / Poly Fluoro Alkyl Substance

PFAS are man-made chemicals

PFAS are commonly found in products with non-stick, water resistant or stain resistant properties. Common applications include non-stick pans, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, food processing equipment, food packaging (e.g. pizza box liners), fire-fighting foams, polishes & waxes, and paper plates.

PFAS are persistent and do not break down over time

If you remember from your basic chemistry classes back in high schools, most oils and fats, as well as carbohydrates are made of long chains of carbon atoms, usually, with 1, 2 or 3 hydrogen atoms connected to each carbon. PFAS have a similar structure except that some or all of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by fluorine atoms. This molecular structure makes these chemicals highly resistant to environmental degradation, hence making them persist forever within the ecosystem.

PFAS are everywhere

PFAS are now present globally due to their wide range of uses and ability to travel through air and water. They usually enter our natural water sources via manufacturing run-off, industrial wastewater, and leaching from landfills. They can also enter the atmosphere when improperly incinerated, and then make their way back into the water cycle via precipitation. There are over 600 known PFAS contamination sites in the US. For an interactive map, click here.

PFAS are probably in the water you drink today

A recent study found PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of US cities. This is because water treatment facilities are not equipped to remove PFAS, or even to detect their presence. This is true not only for municipal water supply systems but also for bottled water. Why is this a problem? Click here to learn more.

PFAS Movement Through Our Ecosystem


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