Protecting our health from PFAS

What Are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are an emerging class of chemicals with alarming health impacts.  PFAS are a class of over 5,000 synthetic chemicals that have been produced since the 1940s. The unique physical and chemical characteristics of PFAS make them resistant to oil, water and temperature. While these properties make PFAS very useful chemicals for a wide variety of products, like Teflon, food packaging, rain-resistant clothing, and firefighting foam, they have contaminated water in many parts of Wisconsin, posing a threat to public health.

How Are PFAS Used?        

One of the best-known uses of these chemicals is in firefighting foam. Military bases, airports, and firefighting training areas where these foams are used are among the first places where PFAS contamination has been identified in groundwater here in Wisconsin.

PFAS are also commonly used in textile manufacturing, plastic and paper products (e.g., fast food wrappers), household products (Teflon non-stick cookware), metal plating processes, medical products, personal care products (shampoos, dental floss), and other products.

How Do PFAs Affect Health?

One of the defining characteristics of PFAS chemicals is the carbon-fluorine chain. The carbon-fluorine bond is very strong, so PFAS do not break down easily, leading some to refer to PFAS as “forever chemicals.” This strong bond means that once PFAS get into the environment, or our bodies, they stick around and accumulate over a lifetime. Researchers are still working to better understand the health effects of PFAS. So far studies have shown that there can be multiple health effects from PFAS exposure:

Based on the current state of knowledge, the primary way people are exposed to PFAS is through contaminated drinking water and eating food containing PFAS (PFAS can bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife) or contaminated by its packaging. Inhalation and incidental ingestion of household dust is also a potential pathway, particularly for younger children.

PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin                

This map shows known PFAS contamination sites around the state. PFAS compounds have been detected in drinking water at levels up to 1,900 parts per trillion (ppt), almost 100 times the proposed health-based standard of 20 ppt.

The CLEAR Act will help end PFAS contamination

The Chemical Level Enforcement and Remediation Act, or CLEAR Act is a bill which is sponsored by Senator Melissa Agard in efforts to address issues such as PFAS. Among many things, this bill requires the DNR to establish and enforce various standards: groundwater,drinking water, surface water, soil and sediment, air emissions. It also creates a $20M PFAS municipal grant program to address PFAS, administered by DNR. None of this can be done until the bill is passed though. Take action today and click the button down below to learn more about how to contact your state legislators to further support the CLEAR Act.

A Crisis of Contamination

Marinette and Peshtigo are communities in Wisconsin struggling with PFAS contamination. In this video by Clean Wisconsin, we hear from local residents, elected officials, and state agency staff about the impacts of PFAS pollution that has left many with contaminated drinking water.

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