Key Facts to Know About PFAS, from Toxicologist Dr. Janet Anderson Ph. D., DABT

We know there is concern about the possible health effects of some PFAS, and that there has been a lot of inaccurate information spread around, so we turned to Dr. Janet Anderson, a board-certified toxicologist and PFAS expert, to get the facts.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of man-made compounds that have been in use for decades in many products and technologies that feature non-stick, stain resistant or water-resistant qualities.  These include fast food wrappers, candy wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, dental floss, cosmetics, paint, sealants, firefighting foam, carpets, Gore-Tex®, Teflon®, and other consumer applications.  PFAS are also used in a wide range of industries including aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and textiles.  Until 2002, when 3M implemented a formula change, its Scotchgard™ product contained PFOA and PFOS, two substances in the PFAS family.

  1. Human health effects from exposure to PFAS in the environment are unknown. There is no human study that has been conducted that proves exposure of an individual to any PFAS, including PFOA or PFOS, causes any illness.
  1. 3M, the manufacturer of Scotchgard™, has conducted a number of peer-reviewed studies of its workers that have been exposed to high levels of PFOA and PFOS due to their work at 3M manufacturing plants.  Based on these studies, 3M’s Dr. Carol Levy, Vice President and Corporate Medical Director, has said:

We believe that PFOS and PFOA do not present health risks at levels they are typically found in the environment or in human blood.  This view is informed by testing our production workers who were exposed to these chemicals at levels significantly higher than those in the general population – often over an extended period of time.  Those workers show no adverse health effects from PFC exposure. 

These studies have specifically considered liver disease and cancer, and repeatedly found no associations between PFOA/PFOS and these conditions.

  1. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has echoed these findings, stating that “health effects can be caused by many different factors and there is no way to know if PFAS exposure has caused [] health problems or made [them] worse.”
  1. Nearly all people in the United States have PFAS in their bodies. According to the CDC, 99% of the population have some PFAS in their system – essentially, PFAS are virtually everywhere and in virtually everyone to some degree.  PFAS have even been found in remote areas such as wildlife in the arctic and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula rivers.
  1. People can be exposed to PFAS through many different ways, but the primary sources of exposure for the general population are food and household materials like carpet and upholstery.
  1. There is no way to tell the difference between PFAS exposure through drinking water, or exposure from food or household materials.
  1. Because no human studies have proven that exposure of an individual to PFOA or PFOS causes any illness, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking water health advisory level is conservatively based on studies in which rodents were exposed to levels of PFOA and PFOS thousands of times higher than those seen in human populations.
  1. Studies from a Harvard researcher suggesting that setting an extremely low level of 1 ppt of PFOA and PFOS is necessary to protect human health against possible negative effects on immune function were first published in 2012-2013. These findings have not been consistently found in other studies such as the C8 Science Panel, which concluded that there is no probable link between PFOA and immune effects in children or adults.  Moreover, the EPA specifically considered these Harvard studies when setting its drinking water lifetime advisory level in 2016, and chose not to rely upon them.
  1. There are no federal or Michigan regulations for PFAS in drinking water. The current, very conservative EPA lifetime advisory level provides guidance only, and was established by in May 2016 at 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined.  This level has a significant “safety buffer” built in, including assuming exposure for an entire lifetime, and that a pregnant or nursing woman could drink over 4 liters of water per day at 70 ppt PFOA/PFOS with no effect on the developing babies and infants.


Dr. Janet Anderson is a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and a human health toxicologist and environmental risk assessor with 15 years of experience providing toxicology expertise and consultation to federal agencies and industry.  She specializes in the translation of human health toxicology data into state and federal regulatory policy decisions and performs critical reviews of federal and state risk assessment guidance and regulations.

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