Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals. Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Most UK waste still ends up in landfill, and this includes PFAS-containing products. Studies have shown that the liquid coming from landfills (known as leachate) often contain non-polymer PFAS chemicals. In the USA the total quantities were estimated at 563-638 kg in 2013. To properly break down PFAS chemicals high temperature (1000oC or more) incineration is recommended. Incineration of municipal waste does not necessarily reach these temperatures (min temp. required is 850oC), and the incomplete breakdown could release non-polymer PFAS.Wash and wear of clothing that contains PFAS-based stain-resistant or water repellent finishes release PFAS to the environment. Coatings are thought to lose effectiveness after 20-30 washes. This can include non-polymer PFAS, remnant from production or as a break-down product of side-chain polymers (Lassen et al. 2015). The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes releases PFAS into the environment, both by air and water emissions. PFAS are very hard to remove during water treatment. Industrial emissions are estimated to be the biggest source of these chemicals to the environment.

Testing your blood and drinking water for PFAS – is it worth it?

We often have enquiries from people who have either had their blood and water tested for PFAS, or are interested in getting a test, so we thought it might be helpful if we addressed this topic in a blog, making the information accessible to people who may need it.


Image by vectorjuice on Freepik


What are PFAS and why are they in our blood? 

PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) are often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because of their extreme persistence in the environment. Some of the group of about 5000 chemicals can take over 1000 years to degrade. PFAS are used in many of our everyday products, and can then leak into the environment during production, use, and disposal. They are now found in our water, air, food, and even our blood. Their extreme persistence means they build up  (bioaccumulate) in the environment, and in plants, animals and humans. While their persistence is not necessarily going to be impactful in itself, several PFAS have been linked with negative health impacts of both wildlife and people.1 There is therefore concern over their use, and due to their chemical similarity a strong argument to restrict them as a group, as a precaution. 


Testing your blood for PFAS 

Blood samples can be analysed for PFAS and other synthetic chemicals such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), but this can be expensive. Testing blood for PFAS is most helpful when it forms part of a scientific investigation or a health study.2, 3 An investigation like this can help show the range of PFAS levels found in the blood of other community members and may provide information on how the levels vary among different populations. Unfortunately, individual PFAS levels from a single blood test for PFAS are unlikely to be helpful and may cause more anguish and upset. These tests are able to tell you whether or not PFAS (or at least a sub-group of the thousands of PFAS out there) is present in your blood, but not whether these levels are “safe” or “unsafe”
in terms of potential health effects. 

A recent study based in the US state of North Carolina studied the blood of 1,500 Cape Fear River Basin inhabitants. Nearly all participants were found to have multiple PFAS in their blood, and most at levels that researchers said required further medical screening. This study has implications for which polluters are responsible and liable for health problems that many residents say stem from PFAS exposure. 


PFAS in drinking water 

In the UK the Drinking Water Inspectorate has standards that require water companies to identify risks, clearly placing the responsibility with the water company. They must ensure that just two PFAS substances, known as PFOS and PFOA and both banned in the UK since 2008, are adequately considered in their risk assessments. If no risk is found, the water companies are not required to monitor. No other PFAS are required to be monitored.  However, if levels of PFOS and PFOA above 0.01μg/l are detected, water companies should “monitor levels in drinking water in order to support estimates of long-term exposure to PFOS and related chemicals and consult with local health professionals”.4

These types of ‘health advisory levels’ provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to be in drinking water. They are non-enforceable and non-regulatory but provide technical information to all those involved with drinking water contamination. There is also large uncertainty over what a safe exposure limit is. The US, for example, has recently published interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS of 0.000004 μg/l and 0.00002 μg/l, respectively. These levels are so low that they suggest no amount of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is safe.5


Is there anything we can do to reduce our exposure? 

If you are concerned about your exposure to PFAS chemicals in any way, please write to your parliamentary representative to express your concern over the ubiquity of these persistent pollutants in our bodies and the environment. Public concern can be a strong driver for government ministers to support action to remove chemicals from our lives. The Marine Conservation Society are currently running a ‘Stop Ocean Poison’ campaign calling for government to commit to tackling PFAS. Please sign their petition here.

One area we can have some control over is the products we buy and use in our everyday lives. Products with ‘fluoro’ or ‘PTFE’ on their labels should be avoided. However, PFAS are not always clearly labelled or even labelled at all.6 A good rule of thumb to use is that if the products have properties that make it repel water, oil, or stains, assume they contain PFAS unless otherwise stated. This will stand you in good stead for recognising when you may need to choose PFAS-free alternatives. Well known products are cookware, baking paper, clothing and food packaging. Less well known are cosmetics, sanitary products, outdoor equipment and electronics. 

Fidra’s PFAS-free website has a list of retailers that make PFAS-free products which we add to as often as we can. By choosing these products over others which may contain PFAS, you will reduce your overall potential exposure.


You can find all these great suppliers here:


If you are thinking about buying a product, but aren’t sure about its PFAS status, then why not get in touch with the producer and ask? It can sometimes take a while to get an answer but be like PFAS and be incredibly persistent! If you happen to come across products that are PFAS-free then please let us know so we can add the product to our list. 




[1] Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS | US EPA. (n.d.). US EPA.

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