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PFAS - Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals found in many products, such as clothing, carpets, fabrics for furniture, adhesives, paper packaging for food, and heat-resistant/non-stick cookware. They are also present in fire-fighting foams (or aqueous film forming foam; AFFF) used by both civilian and military firefighters. Also known as the "forever chemicals", PFAS are persistent (i.e., they do not break down) in the environment, and since they are used in the manufacturing of so many products, they are widespread internationally.

In April 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency published regulations related to PFAS in drinking water for the first time. Read more below.

Exposure to PFAS During Military Service

In the 1970s, the Department of Defense began using AFFF to fight fuel fires. The release of these chemicals into the environment during training and emergency responses is a major source of PFAS contamination of ground water on military bases.

Fireman spraying Aqueous Film Forming Foam

Concerns have recently been raised from communities surrounding bases about whether PFAS-contaminated ground water on military bases may be affecting off-base water supplies. The Department of Defense (DoD) is currently conducting an investigation into the extent of PFAS contamination on its bases and is taking several actions to protect against future exposure.

Read more about DoD efforts.

Exposure to PFAS in Drinking Water

In April 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under its mandate to regulate the presence of potentially harmful substances in air and drinking water in the US, introduced new regulations for PFAS. EPA's rule establishes individual drinking water limits for five specific PFAS compounds, PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA (GenX Chemicals), and also for mixtures of two or more of four PFAS, including PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX. Public water systems, including those serving military installations, are now required to monitor these substances and, where levels exceed the new standards, take necessary action to reduce PFAS concentrations. 

This regulation aims to protect the health of approximately 100 million Americans, ensuring safer drinking water nationwide. Read more about EPA’s efforts.

Testing for PFAS

Some Veterans may want blood testing to find out their PFAS level. Although PFAS testing is not currently available at VA medical centers, VA is reevaluating blood testing in accordance with new Federal research.

There are benefits and limitations to finding out your PFAS level. Knowing your PFAS blood level can give you peace of mind if your exposure level is normal. Also, it can also help you in planning how to reduce your exposure in the future. However, finding out your blood level will not tell you if you were exposed to PFAS recently or in the past. In addition, testing does not identify the source of your PFAS exposure. Knowing your blood level will not tell you whether PFAS has or will cause illness.

Talk to your health care provider to determine if getting a PFAS blood test is the right decision for you.

Health problems that may be associated with PFAS

PFAS can be found throughout the world and most people have been exposed at low levels. According to the EPA, PFAS can be detected in the blood of most people. The likelihood of health problems from PFAS depends on several factors, including the concentration, frequency, and duration of exposure.  More research is needed to understand the link between exposure to PFAS and health effects in humans.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR), some studies in humans suggest that certain PFAS may be associated with:

  • Fertility issues and pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Changes in the immune system
  • Increased risk of certain cancers (e.g., testicular and kidney cancer)
  • Changes in fetal and child development
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of thyroid disease
  • Increased risk of asthma

Although some studies have reported these possible health outcomes, the overall scientific and medical evidence is currently inconclusive. 

In addition to reviewing the potential health effects of PFAS, ATSDR is also involved in several communities with documented PFAS contamination. They conduct exposure assessments and provide technical assistance to local officials to help inform the members of these communities about their potential exposure to PFAS through drinking water. VA is closely monitoring these efforts.

Learn more about ATSDR's work on PFAS.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is conducting research to understand the effects of occupational exposures to PFAS. Studies of those with higher exposures can help improve the understanding of how exposures occur, effective interventions, and the potential impact of PFAS on human health. To support these activities, NIOSH researchers are also developing analytical methods for the measurement of PFAS exposures in the workplace. Learn more about NIOSH research here.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is supporting research to better understand the potential health effects of exposure to PFAS. Currently, NIEHS is conducting toxicity studies on PFAS (primarily in animal models) and funding other studies that investigate health effects in humans, as well as methods for reducing the potential for exposure to PFAS in the environment. VA is closely monitoring these efforts. Read more about NIEHS/NTP’s efforts.

Health concerns?

If you are concerned about health problems associated with exposure to PFAS during your military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.

Compensation benefits for health problems

Currently, there are no presumptions related to PFAS exposure in the military. However, Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to chemicals during military service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.

Learn more about VA benefits.


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