PFAS are a family of chemicals from toxic firefighting foam and many other products, such as water and stain-resistant carpet and clothing. These chemicals exist throughout our environment and are associated with certain health impacts.
Most people living in the United States have some amount of these chemicals in their blood. People in communities that have been contaminated by PFAS -- through water or other sources -- are more likely to have health impacts. Children ages 0-5 years, and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding are more susceptible to health impacts from these chemicals.
Potential health impacts
We don’t know whether PFAS will cause a specific health impact for an individual. That’s because many factors, such as health history and lifestyle, can cause health impacts.
Children ages 0-5 years, and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding are more susceptible to health impacts from these chemicals. Other vulnerable populations include people who live in highly contaminated communities and people who have occupational exposure.
PFOA and PFOS
Scientists have the most evidence about the health impacts of two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. There is strong evidence that PFOA and PFOS:
- Increase cholesterol.
- Impact the immune system.
- Decrease infant birth weight.
- Cause changes in liver function.
There is moderate evidence that PFAS are associated with:
- Preeclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Effects on thyroid hormones.
There is also evidence that PFOA increases the risk of kidney and testicular cancer.
Other chemicals in the PFAS family
Scientists also have information about potential health impacts from two PFAS called GenX and PFBS. Most of the information about the health impacts of these two compounds comes from animal studies. Scientists use this information to help us understand how they might affect human health.
We don’t know as much about the health impacts of other PFAS or mixtures of these chemicals. We need more research in this area.
- Based on studies in mice and rats, GenX may be associated with liver damage.
- Animal studies show that PFBS exposure can result in thyroid, developmental, and kidney effects.
- Research shows PFBS is less toxic and leaves the human body more quickly than other PFAS. Based on sampling to date, levels of PFBS and GenX in Colorado drinking water are below the health advisories
Blood tests for PFAS
Blood tests can measure the level of PFAS in your blood. If you are interested in getting a blood test for PFAS, consider:
- What will the test tell you? Testing can tell if a person’s blood PFAS level is lower than, the same as, or higher than the blood levels of other people living in the U.S. It cannot show whether PFAS caused a person’s health problems. The test also would not determine treatment or next steps.
- Will your insurance cover the blood test? Blood tests for PFAS can be expensive and may not be covered.
- Can your health care provider order the blood test for you? Depending on what lab your health care provider uses, you may have to order your own blood test.
- Are at-home tests an option? At-home blood tests for PFAS are available. If you decide to use one, keep in mind that they have the same limitations as tests ordered by a health care provider or obtained at a lab.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS and final health advisories for PFBS and GenX in June 2022. Health advisories are set well below the level at which scientists expect to see health impacts. Health advisories are not regulations and are not enforceable.
- The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health impacts may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and are lower than the levels labs can detect at this time. The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health.
Not knowing about how PFAS contamination might affect your health over your lifetime can be stressful, but you can get the facts, reduce your exposure, and talk to your health care provider about potential health impacts.
For many people, exposure to PFAS in drinking water is more significant than typical exposures from sources such as food and consumer products.
Find out about PFAS in your drinking water
If you get drinking water from a public water system, visit the public water systems status document to see if your system has tested yet.
If your water provider is not listed on the document, it’s possible your public water system tested for PFAS but did not participate in CDPHE's sampling programs.
If your public water system has tested for PFAS, they might have their results on their website. You can also reach out to your system directly to ask about test results.
If your system has not tested for PFAS or signed up to test for PFAS, encourage it to do so through the PFAS Grant Program.
If you get drinking water from a private well, have the well tested for PFAS. You can request free testing through the PFAS Grant Program.
Consider at-home filtration or finding an alternate source of drinking water
If you are concerned about PFAS, you can reduce exposure by using at-home water filters or using an alternate source of water for drinking and cooking.
- While many at-home water filters exist, they haven’t all been certified to remove PFAS. Look for manufacturers that have demonstrated the water filter can remove PFAS to non-detectable levels. Examples to consider include:
- Look for bottled water that has been treated with reverse osmosis. CDPHE cannot verify that all bottled water is below PFAS health advisories. Reverse osmosis is a treatment that removes PFAS, so we suggest choosing a brand that includes this information on the label.
- Treating water with reverse osmosis removes fluoride, and bottled water usually does not contain it. If you choose bottled or treated water, talk to your dentist about other ways to get fluoride to protect oral health.
- Bottled water negatively impacts the environment.
If you choose to use alternate water to lower your exposure to PFOA and PFOS:
|Use alternate or treated water||Use tap water|
A word about pets
Currently, scientists don’t have a lot of information about how exposure to PFAS might affect pet health. If you are concerned, give your pets alternate water to drink.
Reduce your exposure to PFAS from other sources
Research shows that in communities that are not exposed to PFAS in drinking water, diet is likely the biggest relative source of exposure. People can also be exposed to PFAS through consumer products that contain these chemicals. Though these products are a much smaller source of exposure, reducing their use can help both people and the environment.
- Many studies have found that eating fish is the biggest source of PFAS exposure in diet. Freshwater fish tend to have greater PFAS than saltwater fish, and fish caught in urban areas generally have higher levels of PFAS. Avoid eating fish caught near areas of known contamination.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began researching PFAS levels in food in 2012. The FDA has sampled food from the general food supply (grocery stores) as well as from a few locations with known contamination. Most foods in the general food supply had PFAS levels below the level the lab could detect. Some produce samples and some dairy samples from contaminated areas had higher levels of PFAS.
- Fruits and vegetables that are grown with PFAS-contaminated soil or water may absorb some of the chemicals. If you know your water is contaminated, eating less of the produce you grow can help you reduce your exposure to PFAS. Some studies show leafy vegetables (such as lettuce and kale) and root crops (such as potatoes and carrots) take up more PFAS than fruits (such as tomatoes and strawberries).
- In 2022, Colorado passed a ban on “intentionally added” PFAS in consumer products, which will be phased in from 2024 to 2030. In the meantime, you may want to consider reducing your use of products that contain PFAS.
- PFAS may be in stain-resistant carpets and upholstery, stain-resistant treatments, waterproofing sprays, non-stick cookware, ski wax, food wrappings, microwave popcorn bags, and personal care products.
- Avoid products that contain "PAP" (polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters) or “PFTE” (polytetrafluoroethylene) and ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro.”
- Read the labels to identify these chemicals. A “green” label does not assure that a product is free of PFAS.
- Ask retailers and restaurants if their wrappings are PFAS-free.
If you are concerned about possible health impacts from PFAS, talk to your health care provider. For example, you can ask about:
- Testing and treatment for high cholesterol.
- Monitoring your blood pressure and fetal growth during pregnancy.
- Early screening and lifestyle changes to decrease your overall cancer risk.
If you don’t have insurance or a health care provider, we encourage you to apply for Health First Colorado (Colorado's Medicaid Program or the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+). Visit https://www.healthfirstcolorado.com/
PFAS and your health fact sheets
If you have questions about the PFAS health advisories, contact CO HELP at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911.