Increasing Our Understanding of the Health Risks from PFAS and How to Address Them
EPA Determines Health Risks Using a Proven Scientific Process
Identifying the risk a chemical may pose to human health is a scientific process. It involves determining how much of a chemical is present in the environment, how much a person comes in contact with the chemical, and how toxic or harmful the chemical is to people. Risk, or likelihood of harm to human health, is a function of both chemical hazard and chemical exposure.
It is important to understand how toxic a chemical is and how much a person is exposed to the chemical before health risks can be identified and steps to reduce these risks can be taken.
For example, a chemical can be very toxic but people are very rarely exposed to it, so the risk to human health may be low. If another chemical is only moderately toxic but people are routinely exposed to it in high quantities, then the risk to human health may be high.
EPA is Working to Increase our Understanding of PFAS in Key Areas
There are likely thousands of PFAS that are currently present in the United States. Each of these chemicals has different properties and may be used for different purposes or may simply be present as unintended byproducts of certain manufacturing or other processes. The toxicity of the chemicals varies, and people may be exposed to each chemical in different ways, in varying amounts, and/or with different mixtures.
Robust information about PFAS is needed to better understand the risks they pose and to be able to take effective actions to protect human health and the environment. EPA’s research is helping to deepen our understanding of these chemicals so that we can take steps to continue reducing the risks posed by PFAS and provide certainty to state, local, and tribal partners; the regulated community; and the public.
That is why EPA has placed a strong emphasis on research and why this work is vital to addressing PFAS in the environment. EPA is conducting research to help us move forward in two key areas:
Increasing Our Understanding of Risks to Human Health:
What are the best ways to find and measure PFAS?
Researchers are developing new and more effective laboratory methods to find, identify, and measure PFAS in the air, water, ground water, wastewater, soil, and more. These methods will help EPA better understand which PFAS are currently in the environment, at what levels, and how people might be exposed.
How harmful are PFAS?
Researchers are working to better understand how toxic or harmful PFAS are to people and the environment. This process includes conducting long, in-depth evaluations of a few specific PFAS, as well as shorter scientific studies that provide information about hundreds of PFAS. By using multiple approaches, EPA can better understand how harmful specific chemicals can be and use the information to prioritize the agency’s work to protect human health and the environment.
How are people exposed to PFAS?
Researchers are developing and testing methods to determine where PFAS come from, how they move through the environment, and how people are exposed. This information is crucial to knowing how to ‘break’ the exposure pathway and thereby prevent people from being exposed to PFAS.
Increasing Our Understanding of How to Address PFAS in the Environment:
How can we remove PFAS from drinking water?
Researchers are studying the effectiveness of various technologies at removing PFAS from drinking water. This work helps the people who manage water treatment facilities make informed choices about methods or technologies to use. Researchers are also studying the effectiveness of household water filters so that people have the information they need for their own home.
How should we manage and dispose of PFAS?
Researchers are working to help understand how to safely dispose of materials that contain PFAS. Due to their strong chemical bonds, PFAS are difficult to destroy. EPA and other federal agencies’ researchers are doing tests to figure out the best ways to destroy and dispose of PFAS, such as through incineration, landfilling, and more. The agency is also working to understand how PFAS at a contaminated site may move into the nearby water, soil, or air.
Other Federal Agencies Are Contributing to Research Efforts on PFAS
Many other public and private sector organizations are conducting PFAS-related research. Below are few examples of this work at the federal level:
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is collaborating with EPA on a wide range of research on human exposure to PFAS. The NIH awards over $10 million annually in grants to more than 40 universities and research centers studying PFAS. Research efforts are underway to:
- Assess more than 140 PFAS compounds; and
- Explore alternatives to PFAS-containing firefighting foams and other products.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is studying the human health effects of exposure to PFAS in drinking water. In 2019, CDC/ATSDR initiated two community efforts to study PFAS exposure and health effects.
- The first effort is conducting exposure assessments in eight communities near current or former military bases whose drinking water has been impacted by PFAS.
- The second is a national health study with seven partners to learn more about the relationship between PFAS exposure and health outcomes among differing populations. Read more information about ATSDR activities.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conducting work to assess PFAS issues related to the general food supply, food packaging, and cosmetics. For more information on FDA’s work in these areas please see:
The Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program is sponsoring a number of projects aimed at developing a better understanding of: (1) the occurrence, fate and transport of PFAS, (2) remedial treatment options, (3) ecotoxicity at sites impacted firefighting foam, and (4) next generation PFAS-free foams. Learn more about DOD's PFAS projects.
Where to Go for the Latest Information on PFAS
News Releases from EPA about PFAS
Federal Government Resources
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- United States Department of Defense (DOD)
- United States Navy
- United States Air Force, Civil Engineering Center
State Government Resources
- Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)
- Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC)
- Environmental Council of the States (ECOS)
- Environmental Research Institute of the States (ERIS)
Information on How to Provide Input on Proposed Government Actions
Federal agencies are required to provide an opportunity for public comment when proposing a new regulation and must consider the comments in revising the proposal and issuing a final rule. In carrying out our mission to protect human health and the environment, EPA develops regulations to prevent or to clean up hazardous chemicals released into our air, land, and water, some of which relate to PFAS.
Commenting on a proposed regulation is an important opportunity to make your voice heard. It is a way for you to provide decisionmakers with key information on any or all aspects of the proposed action, including:
- Pointing out key issues in the proposed regulation that you or your community are concerned about,
- Offering additional data and scientific evidence that may not have been considered,
- Identifying factual errors, and
- Proposing alternative solutions.
For some rules, EPA holds a public hearing where you can provide comments in person or remotely. The agency always accepts comments in writing. All comments – whether in person or written – get the same level of consideration. Below are additional resources to help you comment on EPA’s proposed regulations related to PFAS.