Understanding PFOA and Its Health Risks

With a technical name of perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA is a man-made chemical and does not exist in any form naturally. It is a key ingredient in products that are made to resist oils and waters and to be more heat tolerant. The most famous brand name for products with resistant qualities is Teflon. The same product is used on waterproof fabric and stain resistant carpets, waxes and sealant sprays, and of course in non-stick cookware.  But it is important to remember that they aren’t the same things necessarily-  PFOA is not Teflon, it is simply one of the ingredients used in the making of Teflon that helps make it easier to work with. Almost all of it burns off in the creation process and only trace amounts are found in the products that use it. PFOA is used in so many of these items and has so many applications because it’s so stable. But that also means that it lingers and lasts for a long time in the products that use it and that trace amounts will also linger in the human body after one is exposed to it.

Where Is PFOA Found?

Nearly every person who is an adult today has a small amount of PFOA or similar chemical compounds in their blood. The chemical is used in so many products and in many different applications- it is nearly impossible to avid it completely and small amounts can linger in the blood when we consume food or water that has PFOA in it. They can also get into the air and soil and we can ingest it and breath it in as well. It will not decompose in nature so it lingers and can be picked up by food that is grown in contaminated soil. Someone who lives near or works in a plant that produces PFOA or uses it on a regular basis will likely have higher levels of it in their blood due to this higher exposure. Measurable amounts of PFOA have been found in drinking water in at least 29 states and almost all states have trace amounts found in air or soil samples.

Is It Harmful?

In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States issued a special health advisory for PFOA when the results of several studies showed it presented enough of a threat to humans to warrant health alerts. The effects were studied and shown in both lab animal tests and large human popular surveys and the results showed that being exposed to larger levels of PFOA over a longer period of time can cause:

  • Cancer- mainly testicular and kidney cancer though others could also be made worse
  • Pregnancy Problems – premature birth, low birth rate, blood pressure issues, and more
  • Liver damage- accumulation of PFOA in the blood can cause damage to filtering kidneys
  • Thyroid disease- delicate balance of the thyroid’s hormone regulation can be impacted
  • Ulcerative colitis- digestive issues are also now being connected to PFOA poisoning
  • Changes to cholesterol- medical experts are still trying to understand this effect
  • Mental clarity-it is still being investigated by PFOA may have a mental impact as well


Change is in the Air

As we become more aware of the risks of PFOA exposure we can do more to protect against its impact and can do more to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy!