What is PFAS?

PFAS is an acronym for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This label is a for a type of several thousand chemicals. They are of great public health concern, especially here in North Carolina.

Statewide, NC has some of the most PFAS-contaminated water in the country. This is due to abundant chemical manufacturing facilities and military bases. Tap water samples regularly show that many of the state’s residents are drinking water that exceeds the EPA’s recommended limit for PFAS.

What makes PFAS dangerous?

PFAS are notoriously resistant to heat, water, and oil. This makes them abundant in consumer products like non-stick pans, fire-resistant carpets, and items like rain-proof jackets. PFAS are also used in firefighting foams and subsequently turn up in large quantities near military bases and airports. PFAS present an elevated risk as a health hazard because they can act like an endocrine disruptor. This means cells identify this chemical similar to other fatty acids, which is inadvertently absorbed by cell receptors when in fact, these are imposters. This can imbalance the organism’s hormone function.

PFAS chemicals are loosely divided into two categories: short chain and long chain, depending on the number of carbon atoms in their molecular structure. Long-chain PFAS typically are designated as perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids containing ≥ 6 carbons. (To replace PFOA, Chemours and then Dupont began manufacturing a shorter-chain PFAS under the brand name GenX.)

Due to the high abundance of PFAS in the environment, extra care must be taken during sampling and analysis. More information on that is found here.

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