PFAS - Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances - Public Health
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PFAS - Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals found in many products, such as clothing, carpets, fabrics for furniture, adhesives, paper packaging for food, and heat-resistant/non-stick cookware. They are also present in fire-fighting foams (or aqueous film forming foam; AFFF) used by both civilian and military firefighters. They are persistent (i.e., they do not break down) in the environment, and since they are used in the manufacturing of so many products, they are widespread internationally.

VA does not recommend blood tests to find out levels of PFAS. This is because most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their blood and normal ranges have not been established. Also, blood tests cannot be linked to current or future health conditions or guide medical treatment decisions.

In the 1970s, the Department of Defense began using AFFF to fight fuel fires. The release of these chemicals into the environment during training and emergency responses is a major source of PFAS contamination of ground water on military bases.

Fireman spraying Aqueous Film Forming Foam

Concerns have recently been raised from communities surrounding bases about whether PFAS-contaminated ground water on military bases may be affecting off-base water supplies. The Department of Defense is currently conducting an investigation into the extent of PFAS contamination on its bases by:

  • Sampling all on-instillation drinking water systems
  • Testing nearby water systems that may be affected and providing alternative safe drinking water when the water exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lifetime health advisory level
  • Initiating a cleanup program
  • Discontinuing the use of AFFF that contain PFAS with documented toxicity, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and identifying safer alternatives.

Read more about military efforts:

Department of the Navy

Department of Army

Department of Air Force

Health problems that may be associated with PFAS

PFAS can be found throughout the world and most people have been exposed at low levels. According to the EPA, PFAS can be detected in the blood of most people. The likelihood of health problems from PFAS depends on several factors, including the concentration, frequency, and duration of exposure.  More research is needed to understand the link between exposure to PFAS and health effects in humans.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR), some studies in humans suggest that certain PFAS may be associated with:

    • Fertility issues and pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia
    • Increased cholesterol
    • Changes in the immune system
    • Increased risk of certain cancers (e.g., testicular and kidney cancer)
    • Changes in fetal and child development
    • Liver damage
    • Increased risk of thyroid disease
    • Increased risk of asthma

    Although some studies have reported these possible health outcomes, the overall scientific and medical evidence is currently inconclusive. Learn more about the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

    Health concerns?

    If you are concerned about health problems associated with exposure to PFAS during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

    Compensation benefits for health problems

    Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to chemicals during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.

    Learn more about VA benefits.

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    Find out if you’re eligible: Health Benefits Explorer


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