Information about some of the questions we have received about PFAS.
Crops and Gardening
There is not enough research to determine a “safe” level of PFAS in soil, irrigation water, or groundwater for gardening at this time. Plant uptake of PFAS appears to vary according to a number of factors, such as: the concentration of PFAS in the soil and water; the type of soil and plant being grown; the plant part that is used for food; and other nutrients and components in the soil.
If you are concerned that your water may contain PFAS and you have municipal water (meaning you receive a water bill) check with your water utility about PFAS testing and results. If you are concerned that your water may contain PFAS and you are on a private well, consider testing your water.
Water not meeting the state groundwater criteria of 20 ppt for the combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS should not be used for preparing, cooking, or preserving food.
To decrease exposure to PFAS in garden plants:
- If the irrigation water contains PFAS, switch to rainwater, filtered water, or water from another safe source for your garden.
- If the soil contains PFAS, create raised beds with clean soil, underlaid with heavy-duty landscape fabric (polypropylene is a good choice). Make sure the roots of your plants do not extend past the clean soil.
- If the groundwater contains PFAS, make sure the roots of your plants do not extend into the groundwater.
- Add clean organic matter to the soil (uncontaminated peat, manure, or compost). Studies have shown that as organic matter increases, plant accumulation of PFAS decreases.
Testing results of environmental PFAS contamination of food is available from the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Foods can become contaminated with PFAS when the chemical transfers into foods from certain food packaging materials, such as grease proofing agents in paper and paper board packaging. Examples include microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers and boxes, and bakery or deli papers and bags.
Additional information about the potential contamination of foods from packaging materials and testing results of environmental PFAS contamination of food is available from the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Pet and Livestock Health
Most of the available information about the health effects in pets and livestock is from studies in laboratory animals and mainly looks at two PFAS chemicals: PFOA and PFOS. These studies showed the main health effects in lab animals to be liver disease, thyroid disease, reproductive disease, and developmental effects.
At this time, it is recommended that drinking water for pets and livestock meet the same safety standards as those for people.
PFAS and Air Quality
PFAS have been detected in outdoor air near PFAS chemical production sites and large factories that use PFAS in manufacturing.
Because of the concentrated presence of consumer products containing PFAS and lower air circulation rates, typical levels of PFAS are higher indoors, compared to outdoor air.
Certain PFAS chemicals like fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) are often found in indoor air while PFOS and PFOA have been detected in household dust. Levels in the home will depend on the types of consumer products in the home. However, there is limited information about health risks associated with inhalation of the various PFAS that have been found in indoor air.
Bathing and Swimming
PFAS chemicals do not easily absorb into the skin. It is safe to bathe, as well as do your laundry and household cleaning. It is also safe to swim in and use water recreationally. Getting water with PFAS on your skin will not harm you. It is advised to wash your hands, or rinse your pets after being in water containing PFAS, so that water is not ingested accidentally.
Swallowing foam with PFAS could be a risk to your health. Avoiding foam with PFAS protects everyone, including young children, and is a recommendation supported by Wisconsin's Department of Health Services. PFAS do not move easily through the skin, but it's always best to rinse off after contact with foam to avoid accidentally swallowing PFAS. PHMDC and DHS recommend that people not allow their pets to come into contact with or swallow foam. Since pets could swallow foam collected in their fur when grooming themselves, we recommend you rinse pets off with fresh water.
Generally, you can tell if the foam is naturally occurring or may contain PFAS foam by observing the following characteristics.
PFAS contaminated foam
- Can have bright white coloring
- Tends to pile up like shaving cream
- Can be sticky
- May blow inland and collect on lake shores and river banks
- Is usually lightweight
Naturally occurring foam
- Is off-white and/or brown
- Often accumulates in bays, where there is circular movement of water, or river blockages
- May have an earthy or fishy aroma
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