Perfluorinated compounds - health recommendations


Frequently asked questions regarding PFAS and your health

How can perfluorinated compounds affect my health?


In the event that a person is exposed to PFAS chemicals, there are a variety of factors that influence the potential for health effects. These factors include the levels that person was exposed to, the length of exposure, and personal factors such as age, lifestyle, and overall health. 
There have been many studies that looked at possible relationships between levels of PFAS chemicals in blood and harmful human health effects. However, most of these studies analyzed only a small number of PFAS chemicals, and not all of them have the same health effects. Research suggests that high levels of certain PFAS chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS may:

  • Increase cholesterol levels.
  • Cause liver damage or changes in liver function.
  • Decrease how well the body responds to vaccines.
  • Increase the risk of an asthma diagnosis.
  • Increase the risk of thyroid disease.
  • Decrease fertility in women.
  • Increase the risk of serious conditions like high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.
  • Lower infant birth weights; however, the decrease in birth weight is small and may not affect the infant’s health.

Studies do not clearly show whether PFAS chemicals cause cancer in people. People exposed to high levels may have an increased risk of kidney cancer or testicular cancer. However, these studies are not consistent and may not have looked at other factors, such as smoking habits. 

A majority of the research in this field is on the chemicals PFOA and PFOS, but other PFAS chemicals, such as PFHpA, PFHxS, PFBS, and PFNA, may have similar impacts in humans. Scientists are actively studying the health impacts of exposure to PFAS chemicals at levels and mixtures similar to those seen in Colorado. As new studies become available, our understanding of the health impacts of these chemicals in humans will continue to grow.


What is a health advisory?


The EPA develops health advisories to provide information about substances that can cause human health impacts and are known (or anticipated) to occur in drinking water. Advisories may include levels or limits for the substances, but typically the studies are still being completed when an advisory is created.


What is the EPA health advisory for PFAS chemicals?


To provide people, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from exposure to two specific PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) in drinking water, EPA established health advisory levels for both PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). When both of these substances are found in drinking water, the combined levels should be compared with the health advisory level of 70 ppt. In other words, if the levels of PFOA and PFOS added together exceed 70 ppt, action should be taken to reduce exposure. There is very limited scientific information on the health impacts of other PFAS chemicals, such as PFHpA, PFHxS, PFNA and PFBS. It is possible that the other PFAS chemicals may have health impacts similar to PFOA and PFOS. 

Health advisory level = 70 parts per trillion or 0.07 parts per billion


EPA Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS


How much is a part per billion or trillion?


One part per billion = 1 ug/L (microgram per liter)
This amount is equal to one drop of ink in a backyard swimming pool.

One part per trillion = 1 ng/L (nanogram per liter)
This amount is equal to one drop of detergent in enough dishwater to fill a string of railroad tank cars ten miles long. 


PFAS chemicals that are higher than EPA’s health advisory value


When levels of PFAS chemicals in water are higher than the EPA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, this tells us to initiate actions to protect humans from coming in contact with these substances. These actions could be taken at a water company by changing how different sources of water are blended or by the consumer by using bottled or water treated by a reverse osmosis system installed under the sink for drinking, cooking foods where water is absorbed or consumed (like rice and soup), and preparing baby formula. 


Data and studies about PFAS and health


SE El Paso County Preliminary Assessment of Cancer and Birth Outcomes  (06/30/16).

Addendum to SE El Paso County Preliminary Assessment of Cancer and Birth Outcomes (11/5/2019)