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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs): What EPA is Doing

Includes Information on Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS), and All Other PFASs

On related pages:

Laws and Regulations that Apply to PFASs

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

Under the SDWA, we have issued regulations for more than 90 drinking water contaminants. The SDWA also specifies a process we must follow to identify and list unregulated contaminants.  This process may lead to development of National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for specific contaminants. 

Every five years, we publish a list of unregulated contaminants (called the Contaminant Candidate List or CCL).  We use the CCL to identify priority contaminants for regulatory decision making and for information collection.

Note that we are not limited to making regulatory determinations for only those contaminants on the CCL. We can also decide to regulate other unregulated contaminants if information becomes available showing that a specific contaminant presents a public health risk in drinking water.

After a final CCL is published, we must determine whether or not to regulate at least five contaminants from the CCL in a separate process called Regulatory Determinations. A Regulatory Determination is a formal decision on whether or not we should start developing a regulation for a specific contaminant. 

We compile and evaluate data on all of the CCL contaminants, if available, and determine which contaminants have sufficient information to be evaluated against the three criteria listed in the SDWA to make a Regulatory Determination:
  • Whether the contaminant may have an adverse effect on the health of people.
  • Whether the contaminant is known to occur, or whether there is a high chance that the contaminant will occur, in public water systems often enough, and at levels of public health concern.
  • Whether regulation of the contaminant presents a meaningful opportunity to reduce health risks for people served by public water systems.

When making a Regulatory Determination, we first publish a preliminary regulatory determination in the Federal Register (FR) and provide an opportunity for public comment. After review and consideration of public comment, we publish a final FR notice with the regulatory determination decisions.

If we make a decision to regulate a particular contaminant, we start the rulemaking process to establish the NPDWR. On the other hand, based on the three criteria above, we may decide not to regulate a particular contaminant.

We can also develop and publish health advisories or take other appropriate actions for contaminants not subject to any national primary drinking water regulations.  A health advisory is a non-enforceable federal limit that serves as technical guidance for federal, state, and local officials.

EPA is evaluating PFOA and PFOS as drinking water contaminants in accordance with the process described above. There are currently no national primary drinking water regulations in place for PFOA, PFOS or other PFASs.  However, in recent years we have:
  • included PFOA and PFOS on a drinking water CCL (the third CCL we have issued, referred to as CCL 3) (2009),
  • established provisional health advisories (PHAs) for short-term exposures to PFOA and PFOS through drinking water (2009),
  • drafted health effects documents that summarize the available data from scientific studies of PFOA and PFOS (2014), and
  • issued lifetime health advisories (LHAs) for long-term exposures to PFOA and PFOS through drinking water (2016).

Learn more about these efforts on the "What EPA is Doing" tab of this page.

Related information:

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Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

Under TSCA, 
  •  Section 4 authorizes us to require the testing of an existing chemical substance, if we find that:
    • existing data are insufficient, and
    • testing is necessary, and
    • the chemical may present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment, or
    • the chemical will be produced in substantial quantities and may enter the environment, resulting in significant or substantial human exposure.
  • Section 5 authorizes us to issue Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) when we believe that a new chemical substance is being manufactured or processed, or that an existing chemical substance is being used in a significant new way.  A SNUR:
    • requires companies to notify us at least 90 days before they start to manufacture (including import) or process these substances for a significant new use.  The notification they submit is called a significant new use notice (SNUN) and contains information on:
      • chemical identity,
      • physical characteristics,
      • processing and use, and
      • available toxicity data.
    • provides us that 90-day period after the SNUN is submitted to evaluate the new use.
    • gives us the opportunity to protect against potential unreasonable risks from that activity before it occurs. Based on the information we receive from the manufacturer in the submitted SNUN, we can:
      • request more data,
      • prohibit or limit manufacture, if warranted, or
      • conclude our review process, if we determine that the new use may not present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. In cases where we make a determination that the manufacture, processing, distribution, use or disposal may present an unreasonable risk, we will take all appropriate action to limit these activities.
  • Section 6 authorizes us to issue regulations to address unreasonable risks to health or the environment from existing chemical substances. These regulatory limitations can range from labeling requirements to an outright ban of the substance.
  • Section 8 authorizes us to gather:
    • information on chemical manufacturing, processing and use, and
    • health and safety information on chemicals, including:
      • unpublished health and safety studies from manufacturers (including importers), processors or distributors, and
      • substantial risk reports from manufacturers.

Beginning in 2002, we have issued a series of SNURs affecting dozens of PFAS chemicals.

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Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)

The 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, provides the federal government with broad, discretionary authority to address a release or threatened release of contaminants that may pose an imminent and substantial danger to public health, welfare or the environment.  We administer the Superfund program in cooperation with state and tribal governments.  CERCLA gives us the authority to:
  • clean up hazardous waste sites, and
  • force responsible parties to:
    • perform cleanups, or
    • reimburse the government for cleanups led by EPA.

Learn more about Superfund cleanups of contaminated sites on the "What EPA is Doing" tab of this page

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Clean Air Act (CAA)

Regulating air toxics.  The CAA requires us to regulate toxic air pollutants, also known as air toxics, from large industrial facilities in two phases. The first phase is “technology‑based,” where we develop standards for controlling the emissions of air toxics from sources in an industry group (or “source category”). These technology standards are based on emissions levels that are already being achieved by the best‑controlled and lower‑emitting sources in an industry. 

The second phase must occur within eight years of setting the technology standards.  In the second phase, we must assess the remaining health risks from each industrial source category to determine whether the standards protect public health with an ample margin of safety, and protect against adverse environmental effects.  

In addition, every eight years after setting the technology standards, we must review and revise the standards if necessary, to account for improvements in air pollution controls.  As a result of these assessments, we may require phase-outs of the use of specific chemicals like PFASs, if effective and feasible alternatives exist.

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What EPA is Doing to Learn More about PFASs, and to Reduce Exposures Where Necessary

We have been working since 2000 to phase out PFOA and PFOS, and to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of other PFASs. Learn about our efforts:

Find state resources

Establishing Drinking Water Advisory Levels

In 2016, we established a lifetime health advisory (LHA) level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for individual or combinedHelpCombined concentrations of PFOA and PFOSWhen both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS should be compared with the 70 parts per trillion health advisory level. concentrations of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The LHA supersedes provisional short-term health advisory levels that we established in 2009 of 200 ppt for PFOS and 400 ppt for PFOA.  Our assessment indicates that drinking water with individual or combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure. 

Unlike drinking water standards, health advisories are not regulations, are not legally enforceable, and are subject to change as new information becomes available. However, they reflect our assessment of the current peer-reviewed science on the health effects for particular contaminants, and they provide important uniform technical guidance to state, local and tribal governments and drinking water system operators so that they can determine if concentrations of chemicals in tap water from public utilities are safe for drinking and other use.

Our health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS offer a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The level protects the most sensitive populations -- fetuses and breastfed infants -- against adverse health effects.

With the establishment of a final LHA level for PFOA and PFOS, we recommend that state, tribal and local officials, and drinking water system operators, take steps to identify whether concentrations of PFASs in drinking water are above this level.  We advise systems with concentrations above this level to swiftly perform additional sampling to assess the level, scope and localized source of contamination.  If the higher levels are confirmed, water systems should give prompt notice of the levels to their state drinking water agency and to consumers, and should take steps to limit exposures to these chemicals from the drinking water supply.

You can learn more about our recommended actions for drinking water systems with PFOA/PFOS concentrations that exceed 70 ppt on pages 2 and 3 of our PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories fact sheet.

As science on health effects of these chemicals evolves, we will continue to evaluate new evidence.  In accordance with the SDWA, we will consider the peer-reviewed health effects assessments supporting the 2016 PFOA and PFOS health advisories, along with data from the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3) (see the next section on this page for information about the UCMR 3), to make a Regulatory Determination on whether to initiate the process to develop a national primary drinking water regulation.

More information:

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Requiring Monitoring of Drinking Water

The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments require that every five years, we issue a new list of no more than 30 unregulated contaminants to be monitored by:
  • all public water systems (PWSs) serving more than 10,000 people, and
  • a representative sample of small public water systems serving less than 10,000 people.

The monitoring requirements are published in a series of rules called the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rules (UCMRs).  In the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3), which we published in 2012, we included PFOA and PFOS among the contaminants that water systems are required to monitor.  Results of this monitoring effort can be found on the publicly-available National Contaminant Occurrence Database (NCOD).

We will consider the data from UCMR 3, along with the peer-reviewed health effects assessments supporting the 2016 PFOA and PFOS health advisories, to determine whether to initiate the process to develop a national primary drinking water regulation.

Learn more about:

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Measuring PFAS in Water, Soil and Other Media

In drinking water: EPA Method 537 is our standard analytical method to detect levels of PFAS contamination in drinking water.  Laboratories testing for PFAS are not required to use this method, but we encourage them to use it.
In September 2016:
  • We issued a technical advisory to help clarify how laboratories should use EPA Method 537 Rev. 1.1 to analyze drinking water samples for PFOA.  
  • We held a webinar "Perfluorinated Chemicals: Analytics, Occurrence, and Treatment" that included presentations on:
    • our analytical method for PFASs, including the approach, performance data, holding time studies, and contamination issues;
    • source water issues for PFASs, including the impact of wastewater effluents; and
    • PFOA and PFOS treatment for technologies commonly employed by drinking water facilities, including the applicability to drinking water treatment, and a discussion of nationwide cost evaluation.
    For more information about the webinar, and to listen to a recording of it, go to the Small Systems Monthly Webinar Series web page on our Water Research website and search the page for "Perfluorinated Chemicals: Analytics, Occurrence, and Treatment".
In other media:  Although nationally-approved methods for measuring PFASs in non-drinking water samples are not yet available, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) provides two consensus organization methods:

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Studying Levels of PFAS Contamination in Fish

  • PFASs (or more specifically, a subset of PFASs called perfluorinated compounds or PFCs),
  • pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and
  • polybrominated diphenyl ethers (widely used as flame retardants).
To evaluate the extent of PFAS contamination in freshwater fish, we planned and conducted:
  • a national-scale study of urban rivers called the National Rivers and Streams Assessment, and
  • a regional-scale study of the Great Lakes called the National Coastal Condition Assessment, Great Lakes Human Health Fish Tissue Study.

In the river study, we collected fish from over 500 river locations around the nation, including about 160 urban river locations.  We analyzed the fish for 13 PFCs, other contaminants of emerging concern, and pollutants like mercury and PCBs.  We tested for PFCs only from urban river locations, since that is where PFC contamination is most likely to occur.

The first report from the study, the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Streams Assessment, presented results for PFOS, the most commonly detected PFC found in the fish tissue samples. Several states have issued fish consumption advisories based on elevated concentrations of PFOS in fish.  For example, the State of Minnesota advises that:
  • People should not eat fish more than once a week if the fish contain more than 40 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOS
  • Fish that contain more than 200 ppb should not be eaten more than once per month  
  • Fish that contain more than 800 ppb should not be eaten at all 

Fish tissue samples from about 11% of the sites assessed in the study, representing an estimated 1153 urban river miles, contained PFOS above the 40 ppb level.

Note that levels discussed in fish consumption advisories are based on concentrations of these chemicals in a specific serving size of fish (for example, 8 ounces).  They are not related to health advisory levels for concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water.

In the Great Lakes study, we collected fish from over 150 locations in all five Great Lakes, analyzing for the same pollutants as in the river study.  Information about the Great Lakes Human Health Fish Tissue Study:

We reported our analysis of PFAS (or, more specifically, PFC) concentrations from both the National Rivers and Streams Assessment and the Great Lakes Human Health Fish Tissue Study in a the journal Science of the Total Environment in 2014.

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Partnering with Manufacturers to Reduce or Eliminate Use of PFASs

In 2006, we invited the eight major companies in the PFAS industry to join in a global stewardship program to minimize use of PFOA.  The primary manufacturer of PFOS in the U.S. had already voluntarily phased out of producing it between 2000 and 2002. The stewardship program had two goals:
  • to achieve a 95 percent reduction in PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in the emissions from their facilities and in their products, and
  • to work toward complete elimination by 2015 of these chemicals from emissions and products.

Participating companies reported annual progress toward these goals in terms of both U.S. and global operations, and have indicated that they have met their commitments.

More information on the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program

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Evaluating New Uses of PFASs

In 2002, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we finalized two Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) for 88 PFOS-related substances. 

In 2007, the SNURs were amended to include 183 additional PFOS-related substances.  The SNURs allow for continued use for a few highly technical applications of PFOS-related substances where no alternatives are available; these specialized uses are characterized by very low volume, low exposure and low releases.

In 2013, we issued a SNUR for use of perfluorinated chemicals in carpets and carpet aftercare products.  This ensures that manufacturers will notify use prior to any new use of PFAS chemical substances used as part of carpets or carpet treatment products.

In 2015, we published a proposed SNUR to ensure that PFASs with long chains of carbon atoms (specifically, those with chains of seven to 20 carbons) that have been phased out do not re-enter the marketplace without review.

Learn more about these SNURs.

Note that under our New Chemicals Program, we also review substitutes for PFOA, PFOS and other PFASs.

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Limiting Uses and Controlling Releases in Specific Industries

Limiting PFOS use in the chromium electroplating industry.  PFOS had been used as a fume suppressant in the chromium electroplating industry.  In 2012, under the authority of Section 112(d)(6) of the Clean Air Act, we issued a rule requiring the phase-out of its use (PDF) (35 pp, 582 K, About PDF).  We found that non-PFOS substitutes are effective and feasible alternatives for this use. 

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Cleaning up Sites Contaminated with PFASs

Our scientific work to develop drinking water health advisories for PFASs will help inform appropriate screeningHelpscreeningAn activity using less expensive tests typically of shorter duration to provide preliminary information about chemical toxicity potential. Results from screening assays are typically used to set priorities for those chemicals (or groups of chemicals) that need further evaluation.  levels and site-specific cleanup levels at Superfund sites. We use screening levels to decide if further investigation and potential action is needed to reduce or eliminate human health risk.  If we determine that a long-term cleanup action is warranted, we will develop appropriate remediation goals based on site-specific information that are protective of human health, considering:

  • any established health advisory levels, including drinking water advisory levels, 
  • site-specific information like:
    • the presence of other contaminants at the site, and
    • potential exposure pathways, including drinking water and soil ingestion.

Learn about specific Superfund sites near where you live.

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Conducting Research

Overview.  We conduct studies, and work with other federal government agencies on studies, to:

What we learn helps us and other regulatory agencies and policymakers who use the information to protect the public’s health. The information we learn also helps members of the public make informed decisions.

IRIS assessment.  In order to better assess the risks from exposures to specific chemicals, we conduct Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessments of those chemicals.  Our IRIS Program identifies and characterizes the health hazards of chemicals found in the environment. IRIS assessments include the first two steps of our risk assessment process: hazard identificationHelphazard identificationDetermining if a chemical or a microbe can cause adverse health effects in humans and what those effects might be., and dose-response assessmentHelpdose-responseHow an organism’s response to a toxic substance changes as its overall exposure to the substance changes. For example, a small dose of carbon monoxide may cause drowsiness; a large dose can be fatal.

We will determine the range of PFASs for which IRIS assessments are needed.  As indicated in the 2015 IRIS Multi-Year Agenda, the IRIS Program will work with other EPA offices to determine the range of PFAS compounds and the scope of assessment required to best meet our needs. 

Learn more:

Developing Analytical Methods.  EPA is developing robust analytical methods for PFAS in environmental media, including groundwater, surface water, wastewater, and solids, including soils, sediments, and biosolids. View a technical brief that summarizes the work being done to develop these methods.

Tox21.  EPA, the National Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program (NTP), and other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies collaborate on Tox21.  Tox21 researchers aim to develop better methods to test 10,000 environmental chemicals to determine which have the potential to disrupt processes in the human body that may lead to negative health effects.  The chemicals include a number of PFASs.

Learn more:

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Enforcing Environmental Laws

Addressing Drinking Water Contamination at Air Force Bases

PFASs are commonly found in firefighting foams that were used by the Air Force and other military services to extinguish fires at their airports and other facilities.

In 2015, at Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham, Pennsylvania, we issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address drinking water contamination from PFASs threatening 79 public and private wells in the vicinity.  Under the order, the Air Force and Pennsylvania National Air Guard are required, among other activities, to develop short- and long-term plans to address the contamination, and to provide an alternate water supply in the interim. 

In the same year, we issued another imminent and substantial endangerment order for Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth/Newington, New Hampshire to address contamination from PFASs in drinking water at the base.  The PFC contamination there had resulted in the shutdown of one public water supply well for the City of Portsmouth, and two others were in danger of being contaminated as well if action wasn’t taken to control PFC migration. As a result of the order, the Air Force is taking appropriate steps to control, monitor and clean up the PFAS contamination and ensure the community has safe water to drink.

In 2014, at the U.S. Naval Warfare Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, EPA issued to the Navy an imminent and substantial endangerment order under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address contamination from PFASs in drinking water from the base. The order requires the Navy to provide alternate drinking water for private wells, maintenance of installed treatment systems, and installation of a treatment system among other measures.

Learn more about cleanup efforts at:

Addressing Drinking Water Contamination near a DuPont Facility in West Virginia

Beginning in the 1950s, DuPont used PFOA for many years at its Washington Works facility in Washington, West Virginia (seven miles southwest of Parkersburg). We have taken actions to protect communities near this facility from PFOA contamination of drinking water.

  • In 1981, DuPont obtained and analyzed blood samples from facility workers and discovered that concentrations of PFOA had moved from the blood of pregnant workers to their unborn children.  DuPont failed to report the information to us, despite being required to do so under:
    • Section 8(e) of TSCA, and
    • the terms of a corrective action permit that we had issued in 1989 for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste at the facility. 
    DuPont also failed or refused to report to EPA data concerning its sampling of the blood of residents who lived near the facility.
  • In 2006, after science on health effects of PFOA evolved, we entered into a second emergency administrative order that replaced the 2002 order and established a site-specific action level equal to or greater than 0.50 ppb. 
  • In 2009, after our scientists established a provisional health advisory for PFOA of 400 parts per trillion or 0.40 ppb to address short-term exposure to PFOA, we entered into a third emergency administrative order with DuPont that replaced the 2006 order and lowered the allowable concentration of PFOA in drinking water from 0.50 ppb to 0.40 ppb in communities near the facility. The provisional health advisory for PFOA was based on available science at that time.
  • In 2017, we amended the 2009 order to (a) add The Chemours Company to the order, and (b) require both DuPont and Chemours to take additional actions PFOA exposures.  Specifically, the amendment includes a new action level of .07 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOA, which triggers the temporary provision of an alternate source of drinking water by DuPont and Chemours. The temporary provision of drinking water will continue until a permanent alternate drinking water supply is provided.  The amendment also expanded the geographic areas to be investigated and requires appropriate action if levels of PFOA in drinking water of .07 ppb or more are discovered.  The amendment follows EPA's issuing in May 2016 a Lifetime Health Advisory that established .07 ppb of PFOA in drinking water as protective of human health. 
  • In 2018, EPA issued a letter requesting that the Chemours Company sample a select group of public and private drinking water supplies for GenX in the vicinity of the Washington Works facility.

Each of the SDWA orders were based on site-specific information, including information gathered as part of the TSCA/RCRA settlement, that warranted action by EPA at the time.

Read more about the TSCA/RCRA and SDWA settlements.

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State Resources

States have:
  • established health advisory levels for PFASs in drinking water,
  • performed cleanups near old manufacturing or processing facilities,
  • measured PFASs in their rivers and lakes, and
  • conducted exposure and health studies.

The following links exit the site Exit

Maine

Minnesota

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

Vermont

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