|Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)||en español|
PFOA and other perfluoralkyls have been used to make non-stick, heat-resistant, greaseproof, and waterproof consumer and commercial products.
What is PFOA?
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is part of a larger group of chemicals called perfluoroalkyls, which are used in products to resist heat and to repel oil, grease, stains, and water. PFOA is a synthetic chemical that had many manufacturing and industrial uses. It is sometimes called C8 and is a white to off-white powder with a strong odor. The chemical formula for PFOA is C8HF15O2 . The two perfluoroalkyls that were made in the largest amounts were PFOA and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
Historically, PFOA was used in the United States in stain resistant carpets and fabrics, nonstick cookware, water repellant clothing, paper plates, paper and cardboard packaging, and in fire-fighting foams. Another use has been in ski wax.
Aside from industrial uses, consumer products such as those using the trademarked Teflon may have PFOA as impurities. PFOA can also be produced by the breakdown of other substances.
PFOA by itself does not break down under typical environmental conditions. It can be found in air, soil, and water. PFOA is extremely persistent in the environment and can be carried over great distances.
Companies have stopped production or have begun changing manufacturing practices to reduce releases and the amounts of PFOA and perfluoroalkyls in their products. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked eight major companies to commit to work toward the elimination of their production and use of PFOA and chemicals that break down to PFOA from emissions and products by 2015. All companies have met the PFOA Stewardship Program goals.How might I be exposed to PFOA?
At work, you can be exposed by breathing, eating, or having skin contact with PFOA if you work in a facility that makes or uses PFOA or perfluoroalkyls. You can also be exposed if you live near an industrial facility that uses PFOA. You may have a higher exposure to PFOA if you install or treat carpeting.
You can be exposed to PFOA by drinking contaminated water, breathing contaminated air or contaminated dust, or eating contaminated food. EPA has established health advisory levels for PFOA in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion.
PFOA has been detected in breast milk and this may contribute to the exposure of infants.
The general population, especially children, may be exposed if they are in contact with carpets treated with PFOA.How can PFOA affect my health?
Many studies have looked at exposures to PFOA and possible adverse effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that finding low amounts of PFOA in blood serum does not mean that adverse effects will occur. The CDC states that there is no conclusive evidence that PFOA can cause cancer in humans. However, some studies have reported increases in prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers in humans exposed to high levels of PFOA.
PFOA is found at very low levels in the blood of the general U.S. population, although it is not fully understood how everyone is exposed to the chemical. It can remain in the human body for many years.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that “Other than the possible risk of flu-like symptoms from breathing in fumes from an overheated Teflon-coated pan, there are no known risks to humans from using Teflon-coated cookware. While PFOA is used in making Teflon, it is not present (or is present in extremely small amounts) in Teflon-coated products.”
EPA has not officially classified PFOA as a carcinogen. Under EPA’s Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, there is Suggestive Evidence of Carcinogenic Potential for PFOA.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to PFOA or other perfluoroalkyls, contact your health care professional.
For poison emergencies or questions about possible poisons, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Indoor Air Pollution
Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS (Environmental Protection Agency)
Emerging Contaminants - Perfluoroocatne Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 197.18 KB)
Fact Sheet: PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water Health Advisories (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 510.98 KB)
Perfluoroalkyls. Tox FAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Fact Sheet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Perfluorooctanoic Acid. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Perfluorooctanoic Acid. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Teflon and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). What are Teflon and PFOA? Where are they found? (American Cancer Society)
ToxGuide for Perfluoroalkyls (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) (PDF — 124.47 KB)
Last Updated: April 20, 2017