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Sources of PFAS include nonstick pans, some types of firefighting foam, and stain repellent


EGLE Classroom: Introduction to PFAS

You've probably heard about PFAS in the news, but what are they and where do they come from? PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals used in making things like firefighting foam, stain repellants, and non-stick cookware. PFAS can't break down easily in the environment and some PFAS can build-up in our bodies, which can lead to health risks.

EGLE Classroom: Introduction to PFAS Video
  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of manmade chemicals that are resistant to heat, water, and oil. PFAS have been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an emerging contaminant on the national landscape.

    For decades, they have been used in many industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, waterproof clothing, upholstery, food paper wrappings, personal care products, fire-fighting foams, and metal plating. They are still used today. PFAS have been found at low levels both in the environment and in blood samples of the general U.S. population.

    These chemicals are persistent, which means they do not break down in the environment. They also bioaccumulate, meaning the amount builds up over time in the blood and organs.

    Studies in animals who were exposed to PFAS found links between the chemicals and increased cholesterol, changes in the body's hormones and immune system, decreased fertility, and increased risk of certain cancers. Studies in which animals were given high levels of PFAS showed effects including low birth weight, delayed puberty onset, elevated cholesterol levels, and reduced immunologic responses to vaccination. Animal studies help scientists understand what could happen in people.

  • PFAS can get into drinking water when products or wastes containing them are disposed of, used or spilled onto the ground or into lakes and rivers.

    PFAS move easily through the ground, getting into groundwater that is used for some water supplies or for private drinking water wells. When released into lakes or rivers used as sources of drinking water, they can get into drinking water supplies.

    PFAS released by facilities into the air can also end up in rivers and lakes used for drinking water.

  • The main way people are exposed to these chemicals is by swallowing them. PFAS chemicals are sometimes found in drinking water and in cooking- or food-packaging products. PFAS can be swallowed along with the water or food, from there they can enter the bloodstream.

    Touching products made with PFAS or touching water that contains PFAS is not the main way people are exposed to these chemicals. Most PFAS do not easily absorb into the skin.

  • Drinking water and groundwater sample results are compared to:

    Analyte Criteria
    PFOA 8 ppt
    PFOS 16 ppt
    PFNA 6 ppt
    PFHxS 51 ppt
    PFBS 420 ppt
    PFHxA 400,000 ppt
    GenX (HXPO-DA) 370 ppt

    Learn more about drinking water PFAS maximum contaminant levels

     The majority of surface water (i.e., waterbody) samples collected are compared to:

    Analyte Criteria
    PFOA 170 ppt
    PFOS 12 ppt
    PFBS 670,000 ppt
    PFHxS 210 ppt
    PFNA 30 ppt

    Some water supplies draw water from a waterbody, treat the water, and then use it for drinking water.

    If surface water samples are collected directly from a waterbody that is also used as a source for drinking water, then surface water samples are compared to:

    Analyte Criteria
    PFOA 66 ppt
    PFOS 11 ppt
    PFBS 8,300 ppt
    PFHxS 59 ppt
    PFNA 19 ppt

    ppt = parts per trillion

  • On February 4, 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2019-3, establishing the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) as an enduring body to address the threat of PFAS contamination in Michigan, protect public health, and ensure the safety of Michigan's land, air, and water, while facilitating inter-agency coordination, increasing transparency, and requiring clear standards to ensure accountability.  MPART is comprised of seven state departments, including:

    Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (MDMVA), Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

    These agencies are working with federal and local partners to conduct investigations to identify areas and sources of PFAS contamination throughout the state and ensure appropriate public health responses.