PFAS covers a wide family of chemicals that have historically been used in many consumer products and manufacturing applications. Most common PFAS include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS). Health studies link exposure to PFAS with adverse health impacts (e.g., cancer and auto-immune disorders), requiring increased regulatory controls. The potency of PFAS is so significant that acceptable exposure levels are measured in "parts per trillion." Further, PFAS are slow to naturally degrade, resulting in them being referred to as "forever chemicals."
A December 2019 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services document estimates that over 60 million U.S. residents have been exposed to unacceptable concentrations of PFAS in their drinking water or food. Other commentators believe this number underreports actual exposures.
(B) Industries impacted
PFAS have been directly linked to the following industries and products:
- Pulp and paper packaging and products: while PFAS have been largely banned in the United States, pulp and paper packaging and products utilizing recycled materials from other countries can re-introduce PFAS into the United States.
- Surface finishing (e.g., electro-plated products).
- Food (whether due to PFAS in packaging or food grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water).
- "Non-stick" products: stain and water repellent fabrics, non-stick cookware, paints, certain waxes and cleaning products may contain PFAS from other countries.
- Fire-fighting foam flame retardants.
- Landfills and other water treatment and waste management facilities.
However, a much wider range of industries are indirectly impacted by PFAS. Although PFAS use in many U.S. manufacturing processes has been banned, PFAS may be constituents in new products or components manufactured abroad, or unintentionally regenerated by U.S. manufacturers utilizing recycled materials.