How can I be exposed?

You can be exposed to PFAS by

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Drinking contaminated municipal water or private well water 

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 Eating fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS (PFOS, in particular)

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Accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust 

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Eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS

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Using some consumer products such as stain resistant carpeting and water repellant clothing

Research has suggested that exposure to PFOA and PFOS from today’s consumer products is usually low, especially when compared to exposures to contaminated drinking water. Some products that may contain PFAS include

  • Some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers 
  • Nonstick cookware 
  • Stain resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics 
  • Water resistant clothing 
  • Cleaning products 
  • Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup) 
  • Paints, varnishes, and sealants 

Mothers and Breastfeeding

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Babies born to mothers exposed to PFAS can be exposed during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. However, nursing mothers should continue to breastfeed. 

  • Breastfeeding is good for the health of both infants and mothers. Some of the many benefits for infants include a reduced risk of ear and respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding can also help lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and ovarian and breast cancer. 
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “although a number of environmental pollutants readily pass to the infant through human milk, the advantages of breastfeeding continue to greatly outweigh the potential risks in nearly every circumstance.” (American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Environmental Health. Breast Milk. In: Etzel, RA, ed. Pediatric Environmental Health, 4th Edition; Itasca, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2019. P. 238.) 
  • Scientists continue to do research in this area. Based on current science, the benefits of breastfeeding appear to outweigh the risks for infants exposed to PFAS in breast milk. To weigh the risks and benefits of breastfeeding, mothers should contact their doctors. 

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Workers involved in making or processing PFAS and PFAS-containing materials are more likely to be exposed than the general population. Workers may be exposed to PFAS by inhaling them, getting them on their skin, and swallowing them, but inhaling them is the most likely route for exposure. 

Studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through your skin. Therefore, showering and bathing in water containing PFAS should not increase exposure. Washing dishes in water containing PFAS should not increase exposure. 

You can lower your exposure to PFAS in these ways:

If your drinking water is contaminated above levels specified by the EPA or your state government, use an alternate water source for drinking, preparing food, cooking, brushing teeth, and any other activity when you might swallow water. If you do not know if your water is contaminated, ask your local health department.

Avoid eating contaminated fish. Check with your local or state health and environmental quality departments for fish advisories in your area and follow the advisories. 

Even though recent efforts to remove PFAS have reduced the likelihood of exposure, some products may still contain them. If you have questions or concerns about products you use in your home, contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772. 

Because PFAS are at low levels in some foods and in the environment (air, water, soil, etc.) completely eliminating exposure is unlikely.

Page last reviewed: November 19, 2021