Perfluorinated compounds - health recommendations

How can perfluorinated compounds affect my health?

If you are exposed to perfluorinated compounds, whether or not you may experience health effects depends on how much you are exposed to, how long you are exposed, and personal factors including age, lifestyle, and how healthy you are.

A large number of studies have examined possible relationships between levels of PFAS chemicals in blood and harmful health effects in people. However, most of these studies analyzed only a small number of these chemicals, and not all of them have the same health effects. Research suggests that high levels of certain PFAS chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS may:

  • Increase cholesterol levels.
  • Cause liver damage or changes in liver function.
  • Decrease how well the body responds to vaccines.
  • Increase the risk of an asthma diagnosis.
  • Increase the risk of thyroid disease.
  • Decrease fertility in women.
  • Increase the risk of serious conditions like high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.
  • Lower infant birth weights; however, the decrease in birth weight is small and may not affect the infant’s health.

Studies do not clearly show whether PFAS chemicals cause cancer in people. People exposed to high levels may have an increased risk of kidney cancer or testicular cancer. However, these studies are not consistent and may not have looked at other factors like smoking. 

We know the most about PFOA and PFOS, but other perfluorinated compounds, such as PFHpA, PFHxS, PFBS, and PFNA, may have similar effects in humans. Health effects of perfluorinated compounds are the current focus of much research. As new studies become available, our understanding of the health effects of these compounds in humans will continue to grow. 

What does it mean when levels of perfluorinated compounds are higher than EPA’s health advisory value?

When levels of perfluorinated compounds in water are higher than the EPA health advisory level, this tells us to initiate actions to protect humans from coming in contact with the substance. These actions could be taken at a water company by changing how different sources of water are blended or by the consumer by using bottled or treated water. A health advisory value is not a clear line between drinking water levels that cause health effects and those that do not. 

Data and studies about perfluorinated compounds and health