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PFAS Related Air Quality Issues

Three tall smokestacks against a blue sky looking over the city of Lansing
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

PFAS Related Air Quality Issues

  • Yes, PFAS have been detected in outdoor air in other states. These detections have been geographically associated with PFAS chemical production sites or large industrial manufacturing processes utilizing PFAS-containing materials. Michigan and other states have found low levels in the air at more remote sites. 
  • Yes, some PFAS chemicals have been measured in indoor air and household dust. Certain PFAS chemicals like fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) are often found in indoor air while PFOS and PFOA have been detected in household dust. Levels in the home will depend on the types of consumer products in the home. However, there is limited information about health risks associated with inhalation of the various PFAS that have been found in indoor air. 
  • Because of the concentrated presence of consumer products containing PFAS and lower air circulation rates, levels of PFAS are expected to be higher indoors compared to outdoor air.
  • The Air Quality Division (AQD) has derived health-based standards for PFOS, PFOA and 6:2 Fluorotelomer Sulfonic Acid (6:2 FTS) in outdoor air (see below). Air concentrations below these standards are anticipated to pose no or minimal risk to the public health, including sensitive groups such as the elderly and children. MPART continuously reviews the latest science on PFAS to ensure standards are based on the latest research on health effects. In Michigan, these standards are applied to new and modified sources of air contaminants that are required to obtain a Permit to Install.

    Published reports indicate most outdoor air levels are below these standards. The only concentrations that exceeded the health-based standards were found in other states around large manufacturing facilities for PFAS. Also, the official PFAS sites in Michigan identified by MPART are based on concentrations of PFAS in groundwater; drinking water is generally a much more significant source of exposure to PFAS than air.
  • No.
  • If present in air, PFAS is likely absorbed into the body by the inhalation route of exposure; however, this route of exposure likely contributes far less PFAS to your body than eating and drinking contaminated food and water.
  • From an air quality perspective, showering with water containing the common PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, is not likely a health risk because exposure during a shower is not long enough to inhale significant amounts of PFAS. Also, PFOS and PFOA would not be present in the steam at shower water temperatures due to their higher than water boiling points. However, it is advisable to follow any public health recommendation in place for your water.
  • There is evidence some PFAS evaporate into the air at very low rates. However, it is known that certain types of PFAS are more volatile than others. Based on differences in volatility and the variety of industrial uses of PFAS chemicals, additional information is needed to fully understand the transport and transformation of PFAS and the associated human exposure routes.
  • Yes, stack test data from other states like North Carolina (NC), New Hampshire (NH), and New York (NY) have confirmed PFAS emissions from smokestacks using a modified version of an existing test method. These sources include PFAS manufacturing facilities and large industrial users of PFAS-containing products. Similar source types have not been identified in Michigan, to date. Stack testing has not been conducted for any sources in Michigan, to date.

    USEPA developed a stack test method (OTM-45) for measuring PFAS in air emitted from smokestacks. The following is an excerpt from the USEPA site on OTM-45:

    "The posting of a test method on the Other Test Methods portion of the EMC website is neither an endorsement by EPA regarding the validity of the test method nor a regulatory approval of the test method. The purpose of the Other Test Methods portion of the EMC website is to promote discussion of developing emission measurement methodologies and to provide regulatory agencies, the regulated community, and the public at large with potentially helpful tools. Other Test Methods are test methods which have not yet been subject to the Federal rulemaking process."

  • Most references in the published literature report PFAS destruction at temperatures greater than 1,200°F. However, some sources call for temperatures greater than 2,000°F, along with the consideration of other important combustion parameters needed for complete destruction.
  • No facilities in Michigan currently have air pollution control devices installed specifically to address PFAS emissions. Other states have installed controls for PFAS emissions including thermal oxidizers, carbon absorption, and wet scrubbers with packed bed fiber filters, to name a few. The appropriate control strategy will likely vary based on the specific PFAS chemicals involved. More research is necessary to determine if the PFAS is permanently captured and not simply transferred to other media, such as wastewater or sludge. 

    For additional information, visit these sites:  

  • Known (and suspected) air sources have been identified at Teflon manufacturing facilities (not in MI), PFAS-containing coating facilities, chrome plating facilities, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. 
  • PFAS can attach to particles or dissolve in rain and snow, which are then deposited to land and water from the air. This is a process known as atmospheric deposition. 
  • There is currently no U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) approved method for ambient air monitoring of PFAS, although method development is underway.
  • As a “proof of concept” study, EGLE put out inexpensive, PFAS-free rain buckets at five locations Fall of 2021 and collected two to four rain events. Results showed some low levels of a few PFAS in rain and that it is possible to collect PFAS rain samples inexpensively.

  • USEPA has developed OTM-45 for conducting stack tests for PFAS as mentioned above. Some states have conducted stack testing using this method.  
  • Yes. The state of North Carolina has demonstrated atmospheric deposition of PFAS many miles downwind from a manufacturing facility (D’Ambro et al. Characterizing the Air Emissions, Transport, and Deposition of Per- And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances from a Fluoropolymer Manufacturing Facility). New Hampshire found contaminated groundwater was caused by atmospheric deposition of PFAS from industrial emissions of PFAS. Additionally, PFAS have been sampled and found in remote regions such as the arctic (Joerss et al. 2020 - Transport of Legacy Perfluoroalkyl Substances and the Replacement Compound HFPO-DA through the Atlantic Gateway to the Arctic Ocean—Is the Arctic a Sink or a Source?)
  • Yes, some PFAS compounds transform in the air. For example, volatile precursors like 8:2 FTOH can transform to PFOA in the air. 
  • At the federal level, chrome plating facilities are not allowed to add additional PFOS-containing mist/fume suppressants (above 1%) after 9/21/2015. Air Quality Division inspections of affected chrome plating sources in 2017 and 2018 showed compliance with this requirement. However, most replacement mist/fume suppressants still contain PFAS chemicals, just not the specific compound called PFOS. 

    At the state level, new or modified sources of air pollutants may be required to obtain an air use permit; there are exemptions for sources with low emissions, so not all sources of PFAS air emissions are required to obtain an air permit. The sources that are required to obtain an air permit would be subject to Michigan's air toxics rules. If PFAS are emitted above certain thresholds, they would be required to meet health-based screening levels in the air before a company could be issued an air permit.  The AQD toxicologists evaluate health studies of PFAS compounds, update existing screening levels, and develop new screening levels, as appropriate.

  • The AQD derived health-based screening levels for PFOA, PFOS and 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonic acid (6:2 FTS). For PFOA and PFOS, the screening levels are 0.07 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) with a 24-hour averaging time. If both PFOA and PFOS are present in the air emissions, the combined concentration of these substances must be below 0.07 µg/m³ with a 24-hour averaging time. The screening level for 6:2 FTS is 1 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) with an annual averaging time. Screening levels are health protective values, such that if air concentrations do not exceed these levels, adverse health effects are not expected. Screening levels are designed to be protective for sensitive individuals, including children and the elderly. Additional screening levels could be developed as other PFAS are identified in future permit applications. 

  • In Michigan, only air emissions from new or modified sources not exempt would be subject to meeting health-based screening levels for PFAS.
  • Yes, some examples that may release PFAS to the outdoor air include chrome platers, paint/coating facilities, burn-off ovens, and a textile coater. These sources are not PFAS manufacturers, nor do they use PFAS chemicals at the levels noted in other states in which atmospheric deposition has been demonstrated. 
  • Yes. Minnesota and Wisconsin found PFAS in outdoor air and North Carolina found PFAS in rainwater. 

  • The AQD inspected all chrome platers in the state to determine PFOS use. None were using PFOS in their process; however, 28 chrome plating facilities still use PFAS substances other than PFOS. Efforts are underway to identify safer alternatives for the chrome plating industry.

    AQD staff:

    • will develop additional health-based screening levels for PFAS compounds, as needed, for use in air permitting.
    • are learning more about how PFAS is used and estimating potential air releases.
    • are also collecting information from other states, the USEPA, and the published literature on air-related PFAS issues. 
    • are working with the University of Rhode Island and Harvard University to better understand atmospheric emissions and deposition of PFAS with the application of atmospheric modeling. Passive air sampling results have found low levels of PFAS in the air similar to other outdoor semi-urban areas, and at concentrations lower than indoor air samples reported in the literature. 

    As the uses of PFAS chemicals by industry are identified through air permit applications, the AQD will screen allowed emissions for potential adverse health effects as required by the air toxics rules. Appropriate air permitting measures for PFAS (such as material limits, material substitution, control requirements, emission limits and/or stack dispersion requirements) will be included in air permits, as necessary. Revisions of Part 2 air rules will be pursued to better address PFAS emissions.

  • On October 18, 2021, USEPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the agency's PFAS Strategic Roadmap, laying out a whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS (PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA's Commitments to Action 2021-2024).

    In July 2022 USEPA issued a final rule to update the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) chemical list to identify five additional PFAS subject to reporting requirements (EPA Issues Final Rule to Require Reporting on Five PFAS).

    The Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) developed a web-based technical regulatory guidance document that “presents the necessary breadth and depth not given by the fact sheets” (ITRC Fact Sheets – PFAS) and includes stakeholder points of view, technical challenges and uncertainties, risk communication strategies, and provides links to pertinent scientific literature” on PFAS ITRC Connect.

    ATSDR also maintains a web site dedicated to PFAS: ATSDR: PFAS and your health.