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Per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)

We are working with the Washington State Department of Health to develop a chemical action plan identifying sources and recommending actions to reduce the use, release, and exposure to per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in Washington. The plan is being developed in consultation with an advisory committee composed of representatives from industry and environmental stakeholders.

What are PFAS compounds?

PFAS are a large group of per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances. These very stable man-made chemicals remain in the environment for a long time without breaking down, and some of them build up in people and the environment.

Sources and exposure

PFAS compounds were used for decades to make coatings and products resistant to oil, stains, grease, and water. Today, manufacturers use them for many applications due to their durability, heat resistance, UV resistance, and anti-corrosive properties.

Even though PFAS compounds aren't manufactured in Washington, consumer and industrial products containing the chemicals release them into the environment. PFAS released into the atmosphere eventually settles back down to the ground or waterways. PFAS compounds have been found at cleanup sites, often introduced through firefighting practices.

PFAS contamination in drinking water is a concern at several sites in Washington. EPA detected PFAS compounds in some drinking water samples taken across the United States during a 2013-2015 monitoring period. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has documented widespread exposure to PFAS in people throughout the U.S.

Currently known PFAS uses

  • Carpets (homes, businesses, cars, and planes)
  • Textiles (outdoor clothing and equipment)
  • Fire-fighting foam used to put out petroleum fires  
  • Paper wrappers for fast food and microwave popcorn
  • Tubing, seals, wire insulation, and other equipment for cars and planes
  • Building materials (metal roof coatings, paint adhesives, and sealants)
  • Metal plating industry
  • Cosmetics

Toxicity and health effects

Most PFAS research has been done on two specific compounds: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and a related compound, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The toxicity of other PFAS compounds varies. Studies in animals show that exposure to some PFAS can affect liver function, reproductive hormones, development of offspring, and mortality.

PFAS toxicity in humans is less understood. Experts investigating the effects on people living near a factory in West Virginia that produced perfluorooctanoic acid found probable links to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Taking action against PFAS

Ecology and the Washington State Department of Health are developing a chemical action plan for PFAS. An advisory committee began meeting in winter 2016 and will continue to help us collect information and identify solutions. We expect the draft PFAS chemical action plan will be ready for public review and comment in 2018.

History of actions to address PFAS in Washington

2016 - Ecology conducts a follow up to the 2008 study to assess levels of PFAS in Washington rivers and lakes.

2008 - Ecology conducts a study to assess levels of PFAS in Washington rivers and lakes.