Toxic Reduction and Safer Alternatives

Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that have historically been used in a variety of ways, including in firefighting foams or to make non-stick, water-repellent, or stain-repellent products. Some of these chemicals are now known to be harmful to human health at high levels if regularly exposed to them.
PFAS are common in the products people use on a daily basis. The biggest concern for PFAS exposure is through drinking water. In Oregon, a study of all major public drinking water systems (serving populations greater than 10,000) and some smaller systems found no detections of PFAS. So far, Oregonians do not seem to be exposed to these chemicals in harmful amounts through their water.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the potential for health effects from PFAS in humans is not well understood. Some types of PFAS, such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFNA, have generally been studied more extensively than other forms of PFAS. In general, animal studies have found that animals regularly exposed to PFAS at high levels resulted in changes in the function of the liver, thyroid, pancreas and hormone levels.
 
Oregon Health Authority has stated that the primary concern for exposure to PFAS is through drinking water. To date, PFAS have not been detected in public drinking water systems in Oregon.
 
Health effect information comes from studies of certain PFAS chemicals where there were: 1) occupational exposures to high levels of PFAS; 2) people living near industrial facilities where PFAS were produced; and 3) people exposed to contaminated drinking water. Additional information about health effects comes from studies of animals. The research suggests that exposure to high levels of these PFAS may:
 
  • Affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and children.
  • Reduce a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.
  • Interfere with the body’s hormones.
  • Increase cholesterol levels.
  • Affect the immune system.
  • Increase the risk of cancer.
Much of what is known about health effects is based on studies of some older PFAS which have been more widely researched than PFOS and PFOA and are newer generations of PFAS. More research is needed to help scientists fully understand how PFAS may affect human health. 
 
More information is available from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website on PFAS and their Health Effects.
DEQ air, land and water programs as well as the DEQ lab are taking the following steps to address PFAS:
  • Identification of sites that may use PFAS in their operations
  • Oversight of site testing and assessment of impacts
  • Development of analytical methods for testing for PFAS in water
  • Cleaner Air Oregon requested toxic pollutant emissions reports from industries that included PFAS
  • Coordination with federal, state, and local agency partners
States that have established PFAS regulations collected data showing elevated levels of PFAS in public drinking water. The 2013-2015 study of all nation-wide public water drinking systems serving populations over 10,000 (and some smaller systems) found no detection of PFAS in Oregon’s drinking water. However, as an emerging contaminant of concern, DEQ is working with Oregon Health Authority and other state agency partners to evaluate the next steps that should be taken in Oregon.
A health advisory is a suggested limitation of exposure. If exceeded, agencies are often required to notify the public, but there is no enforcement mechanism. Oregon Health Authority issues such advisories for fish consumption, harmful algae blooms, and beach access. A regulatory limit is a legal maximum. If exceeded, the regulatory agency can compel the party responsible for the exceedance to complete a corrective action to come back into compliance.
There are various resources available to you depending on the information you’re looking for:
 

Talk to people at DEQ or OHA:

General information about PFAS