PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals invented by U.S chemical company 3M, that have been used by a variety of industries since the 1940s. They provide numerous functions but are chiefly used to add water, oil, and temperature resistance to consumer products. PFAS are very persistent in the environment and in the human body–meaning they don’t break down and can accumulate over time.
Over the last few decades, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs has used firefighting foams containing PFAS. Although very effective at dousing flames, this foam and the chemicals in it has likely led to the contamination of drinking water in the Fountain Valley.
PFAS can be found in...
Stain and water-repellent fabrics
Nonstick products (e.g., Teflon)
Most living organisms
Learn more about PFAS from the Toxics Actions Center
BREAKING DOWN THE SCIENCE
Per- and Polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are made up of carbon-fluorine bonds that are some of the strongest chemical bonds known to man. Their incredible bond allows PFAS to persist in the environment without breaking down. Thus human intervention is required for their removal.
In addition to their strength and longevity, PFAS have several other special chemical properties. One end of a PFAS molecule, known as the head, is hydrophilic. This means it is attracted to water molecules. The other end, known as the tail, is hydrophobic, and is attracted to oils, fats, and grease.
HALF LIFE & BIOACCUMULATION
The half life of a substance describes how long it takes to reduce its initial amount by half. PFAS have a very long half life due to their incredible strength. They can remain in your body for up to 3 years. PFAS are incredible stable and nonreactive in your body. As a result, you can accumulate these molecules much faster than you can get rid of them. They build up in your body overtime: this is bioaccumulation. As a result, your blood serum will likely have higher concentrations of PFAS than concentrations recorded in drinking water.
PFOS // PFAS // GENX
PFOS and PFOA fall within the “long-chain” distinction of PFASs, which are thought to exemplify greater bioaccumulative attributes and toxicity according to the EPA, though shorter chain molecules may evade filtration more easily. Manufacturing companies have begun to phase out PFOS and PFOA and replace them with “short chain” PFAS such as GenX. Experts have not reached consensus on whether these short-chain PFAS are less toxic than PFOS and PFOA.
WILL THESE CHEMICALS GET ME SICK?
Yes, No & Maybe
PFAS may pose potential adverse effects on the human body due to their toxicity in large doses, extreme ease of mobility, and capability to bioaccumulate.
In Ohio, 32,254 community members and factory workers participated in an epidemiological study assembled by the EPA and the state health department. The study found that exposed people were on average 1.2 times more likely than unexposed people to develop high cholesterol.
SHOULD I GET MY BLOOD TESTED?
Getting your blood tested, if you live in the Fountain Valley, could be a good idea. Knowledge is power and it never hurts to have a documented record of possible exposure to these chemicals.
If you plan on getting tested, there are few things you should know first. Before meeting with your doctor, check out this information about testing on the C-8 Medical Monitoring webpage.
RELIABLE SOURCES FOR INFORMATION
For general questions, such as, “What are PFAS?” and “What are some potential health effects of PFAS exposure?” refer to the following articles...