Safety and first aid

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per­ and poly­fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.

PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe. Products that might include PFAS include fabric, furniture and carpets treated for stain and water resistance, foams used for firefighting; food packaging; make-up and personal care products and cleaning products.

Australia and other countries have taken action to phase out the use of these materials in products and a general trend towards lower PFAS levels in people’s blood has been observed. 

What is the health advice?

Some people who live or work in areas that have been contaminated with PFAS, might have been exposed to higher levels of PFAS through food or drinking water. They are advised to minimise their exposure until there is more known about possible impacts on health.

There are a number of investigations occurring within Western Australia. These investigations are completed in accordance with the Contaminated  Sites Act 2003. Further information on PFAS investigations in Western Australia is available from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (external site).

What is a reference value?

Reference values are used by scientists to determine the acceptance level of chemicals or substances in your diet. One way to express these values is through a Tolerable Daily Intake, often referred to as a (TDI). The TDI’s for PFAS are important because the major routes of exposure in communities are through contaminated drinking water and contaminated food. The TDI for PFAS is used specifically for conducting assessments (including, human health risk assessments) at contaminated sites.

What is the advice for pregnant/breastfeeding women?

There is no evidence that PFAS is a major contributor to poor health outcomes in pregnant women or their babies. However, as a precaution, pregnant women should minimise their exposure to PFAS.

Breastfeeding has significant benefits for infants. These benefits far outweigh any potential health risks from PFAS that may be transferred to infants through breast milk. Mothers living in PFAS-contaminated areas should continue to breastfeed.

Should I have a blood test for PFAS?

The Australian Government is aware of community concerns about exposure to PFAS and is monitoring and supporting scientific research into potential health impacts. The Government established an Expert Health Panel (external site) to provide advice on the potential health impacts associated with PFAS exposure and to identify priority areas for further research.

Because we do not yet know whether PFAS causes adverse health effects, blood tests measuring levels of PFAS tests cannot say whether a person will become sick as a result of the PFAS in their body, or whether a current medical condition is the result of PFAS exposure.

Blood tests that have been conducted on groups of people in the PFAS Investigation Areas surrounding Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine are being used to research the potential health effects of PFAS exposure. The research study (external site) is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

What is being done to find out more about PFAS?

The Australian Government is aware of community concerns about exposure to PFAS and is monitoring and supporting scientific research into potential health impacts. The Government established an Expert Health Panel (external site) to provide advice on the potential health impacts associated with PFAS exposure and to identify priority areas for further research.

The Australian National University has been funded by the Department of Health to conduct an Epidemiological Study (external site) into the potential health effects of PFAS exposure, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

More information

Where to get help

Factsheet endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, June 2016.


Acknowledgements

Environmental Health, WA Health

Department of Environment Regulation


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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