What are PFAS? 

 PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of man-made fluorinated compounds that have been used in consumer products since the 1940s for their stain- and grease-repelling properties. 

PFAS are a global issue affecting all aspects of product use: from source, to supply, to consumers, to disposal. There are over 4,000 compounds known in this class of chemicals. Two of the most studied compounds, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), have been found to be very persistent in the environment and in the human body and have come to be called “forever chemicals.” This means they do not break down and can accumulate over time. There are documented studies corelating exposure to PFAS that lead to adverse human health effects. As a result, these two particular compounds have been phased out of use among manufactures in the United States. Yet, there are still thousands of known PFAS compounds still being used in many commonly used products. Here are just a few examples of how people are exposed to PFAS:

Some Packaging Used for Fast Foods
Some Packaging Used for Fast Foods

Eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS

Some Nonstick Pans
Some Nonstick Pans

Nonstick cookware

Microwave Popcorn Bags
Microwave Popcorn Bags

Eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS


Paints, varnishes, and sealants

Personal Care Products
Personal Care Products

Personal care products (toothpaste, shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)

Drinking PFAS Contaminated Water
Drinking PFAS Contaminated Water

Drinking contaminated municipal water or private well water


PFAS Flow through our society creating several points of exposure. Being "forever chemicals," they are not easily or entirely removed from our society. Therefore, there is a lot of research going into effective and affordable ways to sequester these chemicals to limit exposure at the end use of materials containing PFAS. 

In Summary 

What we know about these chemical compounds. 

  • They consist of a category of over 4,000 man-made chemical compounds.

  • PFAS have been manufactured and used since the 1940’s.

  • PFAS repel oils, stains, and water. They are effective flame retardants.

  • PFAS have strong chemical bonds and do not breakdown easily.

  • Not all 4,000 of these compounds can be measured or traced.

  • Most studied compounds are PFOA & PFOS. There use is being phased out. 

  • PFAS are called “forever chemicals”; very difficult to breakdown in the environment and dispose.

  • They are found everywhere on the planet, including the North Pole.

  • PFAS are a concern to human health and environment.

  • Food and diet are primary exposure route to people (70-85%).

Webinar - PFAS from a Solid Waste Industry Perspective

Legislative Info Session on PFAS, a solid waste industry perspective, on July 29, 2020.

US Environmental Protection
Agency: PFAS


Basic Information on PFAS. 

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District PFAS Initiative Website


Basic Information on PFAS from a waste water treatment perspective.

Learn More

Site hosted by the WI County Solid Waste Management Association

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