Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a large class of chemicals found in many consumer products, as well as in industrial products such as certain firefighting agents called aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). PFAS is also found in essential use applications such as in microelectronics, batteries and medical equipment. There is significant attention on PFAS releases from DoD activities and the subsequent potential impact to human health and the environment. The presence of PFAS in the environment is a national issue due to its wide-spread use in many industrial and consumer products. The Department recognizes the importance of this issue and is committed to addressing PFAS in a deliberative, holistic, and transparent manner.
Reports indicate most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood. Health monitoring studies show PFAS is most prominently detected in workers associated with manufacturing activities and in communities with elevated levels of PFAS in their drinking water. Current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes such as reproductive effects (e.g., decreased fertility), immune effects, and increased risk of some cancers, but it is unclear what health effects are associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS. The Department looks to and supports the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and state health departments’ ongoing PFAS environmental exposure and health effects research correlating blood levels to adverse health impacts. The DoD currently performs annual occupational exams that include offering PFAS blood testing to its firefighters (Active Duty military, Reserves, and DoD civilian employees). DoD is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to determine whether career fields, beyond firefighters, may have occupational PFAS exposures. The DoD also works closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider future options to evaluate current and former military exposures and potential risks from PFAS. VA information on PFAS is available at: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/pfas.asp. Additional information regarding PFAS exposure can be found on the EPA website (https://www.epa.gov/pfas) and on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website (https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/). The science on PFAS is evolving. There is extensive research being done to determine where PFAS exist and what impact they have on human health and the environment.
Certain DoD operations and firefighting activities have a potential to release PFAS-containing materials to the environment. DoD follows federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) requirements for the investigation and cleanup of PFAS releases resulting from DoD activities. An overview of the CERCLA process can be found on our CERCLA 101 page.
When released into the environment, PFAS can enter into the soil and migrate through surface water (including lakes and rivers) and groundwater. In some cases, these waters serve as a source of drinking water for individuals (private water wells) or a municipality. Not all groundwater is used for drinking water, and the groundwater that is used for drinking water is often treated before consumption. This treatment ensures that the water that is ultimately consumed by the public is safe and meets all state and federal requirements for water quality. Additional information about PFAS in drinking water and PFAS in groundwater and DoD’s investigation efforts are included here.