What are the health risks of PFAS?

Chemicals are EVERYWHERE. And while that sounds kinds of scary, there are lots of chemicals in our everyday lives that are completely normal. From the water we drink, to the salt and sugar we use to flavor our food, to the graphite in the pencils we write with, chemicals are a regular part of life.

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But there are also certain chemicals around that aren’t so harmless, and can also be linked to a host of health issues and adverse effects. These chemicals, known as PFAS, are found in almost every person [1] – and it’s important to know what the risks are to you so you can take action.

What are PFAS?

PFAS (or Per- and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances) are a group of man-made chemicals used in a variety of products to help resist heat, water, oil, and stains. These chemicals take a very long time to break down, and some types of PFAS have been estimated to stay in your body for over 1,000 years. This quality of PFAS gives them the nickname “forever chemicals”.

As you read about PFAS, you may see references to PFOA (C-8) and PFOS in different studies and research articles. These other acronyms are just referring to smaller subcategories of PFAS chemicals. There are slight differences among each category, but for our purposes, we’ll stick with using the term PFAS.


Where can PFAS be found?

PFAS may be found in:

  • Food packaging
  • Carpet
  • Clothes
  • Cosmetics
  • Cookware
  • Cleaning products
  • Nonstick pans

PFAS can also be found in the surrounding environment, including soil, air, drinking water, and groundwater. Since these chemicals are man-made, they enter the environment through industrial production of these chemicals in plants, or through the release of waste products. Even though some PFAS are no longer produced, they can persist in our environment decades after they enter it.

Have I been exposed to PFAS?

PFAS are extremely widely used chemicals, and all of us likely have some level of PFAS in our body. According to a 1999-2000 sampling conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS were detected in the blood of over 98 percent of collected samples! [1] Since we’ve all likely been exposed, the question becomes how much we’ve been exposed to, and what health conditions could be linked to that exposure.

What are the health risks of PFAS?

While research is still emerging on the impact of PFAS, these chemicals have been linked to many serious health problems and adverse health effects. According to the CDC, high levels of exposure to PFAS may lead to higher levels of cholesterol, lower levels of vaccine response in children, complications for pregnant women and their infants, and increased risk of certain kinds of cancer.

PFAS and Cholesterol

PFAS may be linked to high cholesterol in some individuals. One 30-year study of 53 male employees of a PFOA production plant found a significant association between higher total cholesterol levels and elevated PFOA levels in the blood. [2] While we can’t say that PFAS cause high cholesterol, it’s an important link that we’ll be following as research emerges.

PFAS and Vaccines

PFAS have been associated with lowered vaccine efficacy - meaning that vaccines can’t provide you with as much long-term protection. One study of 411 adults who were exposed to PFOA and PFOS (which are different categories of PFAS) found that higher levels of these chemicals in the blood were associated with lower levels of antibodies against influenza. [3]

Another 2017 study found that prenatal exposure to PFAS led to lower antibody levels from vaccines in infants between the ages of 18 months to 5 years old. [4] The study, published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology, found that higher levels of PFAS exposure led to lower levels of antibodies from the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.

PFAS and Pregnancy

PFAS have been connected with a variety of adverse effects for pregnant women and their infants. One study found that PFAS were positively associated with preeclampsia (a pregnancy condition that can cause high blood pressure and other complications) and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. [5]

Another 2020 study found that installing a PFAS filtration system in drinking water helped improve overall reproductive outcomes in a community with high PFAS exposure, including significant improvements in low birth weight, preterm birth, and fertility rates. [6] One 2019 study of 664 men also found that PFAS exposure may have negative effects on semen quality. [7]

PFAS and Cancer

PFAS chemicals have also been linked to several types of cancer. In one 2021 review of 28 studies, researchers found that PFAS exposure was linked to kidney and testicular cancer. [8] The same review noted that some studies suggest a possible link to prostate cancer, but the data wasn’t consistent enough to draw a definite conclusion.

PFAS and Other Health Conditions

Researchers are still working to determine the exact effects of PFAS chemicals on our bodies, and several studies have explored the link between PFAS and other adverse health conditions.

  • One 2021 review article of 55 studies found that two-thirds of those studies noted a positive association between PFAS exposure and obesity and/or diabetes; however, further research will be needed to determine causation. [9]
  • A 2020 review published in Frontiers in Endocrinology found that PFAS could have thyroid-disrupting effects, but further, long-term study is needed to determine the effects of long-term exposure to PFAS chemicals, as well as the specific effects of different types of chemicals. [10]
  • PFAS exposure may be linked to developmental delays in children. A 2019 review of epidemiological studies found that early-life exposure to PFAS can affect fetal and postnatal growth, but findings about brain development weren’t yet conclusive. [11]


How can I know my PFAS exposure levels?

The CDC and EPA are currently conducting PFAS testing in locations all over the United States, and the United States recently committed $10 billion to researching the effects of environmental contaminants like PFAS in communities across the country. The EPA has also established a Strategic Roadmap to address PFAS through 2024, and efforts include:

  • Research to determine the effects of PFAS exposure, how we get exposed to PFAS chemicals, and how to treat the effects of PFAS.
  • Restrict the usage of PFAS and prevent exposure from happening.
  • Clean up areas where PFAS exposure levels are high. [12]

However, you can know your exposure to PFAS with an at-home blood test from empowerDX. Ordering is easy:

  1. Order your test online. Since it’s an environmental test, it doesn’t require physician approval like other health tests.
  2. Complete a simple blood test for over 40+ PFAS chemicals.
  3. Get answers about your PFAS exposure.

Order your test today, and get answers to help you take action.

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[1] “PFAS.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Dec. 2020, www.atsdr.cdc.gov/2019ATSDRAnnualReport/stories/pfas.html.
[2] Costa, Giovanni, et al. “Thirty Years of Medical Surveillance in Perfluooctanoic Acid Production Workers.” Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, vol. 51, no. 3, Mar. 2009, pp. 364–372., doi:10.1097/jom.0b013e3181965d80.
[3] Looker, Claire, et al. “Influenza Vaccine Response in Adults Exposed to Perfluorooctanoate and Perfluorooctanesulfonate.” Toxicological Sciences, vol. 138, no. 1, 27 Mar. 2013, pp. 76–88., doi:10.1093/toxsci/kft269.
[4] Grandjean, Philippe, et al. “Estimated Exposures to Perfluorinated Compounds in Infancy Predict Attenuated Vaccine Antibody Concentrations at Age 5-Years.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, vol. 14, no. 1, 1 Dec. 2017, pp. 188–195., doi:10.1080/1547691x.2017.1360968.
[5] Huang, Rong, et al. “Prenatal Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and the Risk of Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy.” Environmental Health, vol. 18, no. 1, 9 Jan. 2019, doi:10.1186/s12940-018-0445-3.
[6] Waterfield, Gina, et al. “Reducing Exposure to High Levels of Perfluorinated Compounds in Drinking Water Improves Reproductive Outcomes: Evidence from an Intervention in Minnesota.” Environmental Health, vol. 19, no. 1, 22 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12940-020-00591-0.
[7] Pan, Yitao, et al. “Profiles of Emerging and Legacy per-/Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Matched Serum and Semen Samples: New Implications for Human Semen Quality.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 127, no. 12, Dec. 2019, p. 127005., doi:10.1289/ehp4431.
[8] Steenland, Kyle, and Andrea Winquist. “PFAS and Cancer, a Scoping Review of the Epidemiologic Evidence.” Environmental Research, vol. 194, Mar. 2021, doi:10.1016/j.envres.2020.110690.
[9] Qi, Weipeng, et al. “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Review of Epidemiologic Findings.” Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry, vol. 102, no. 1-4, 20 Jan. 2020, pp. 1–36., doi:10.1080/02772248.2020.1763997.
[10] Coperchini, Francesca, et al. “Thyroid Disrupting Effects of Old and New Generation PFAS.” Frontiers in Endocrinology, vol. 11, 19 Jan. 2021, doi:10.3389/fendo.2020.612320.
[11] Liew, Zeyan, et al. “Developmental Exposures to Perfluoroalkyl Substances (Pfass): An Update of Associated Health Outcomes.” Current Environmental Health Reports, vol. 5, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 1–19., doi:10.1007/s40572-018-0173-4.
[12] Regan, Michael S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2021, pp. 1–23, PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021–2024.