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What are PFAS? 

 PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of man-made fluorinated compounds that have been used in consumer products since the 1940s for their stain- and grease-repelling properties. 

PFAS are a global issue affecting all aspects of product use; from source, to supply, to consumers, to disposal. With over 4,000 compounds known in this class of chemicals, PFAS are a diverse group of compounds resistant to heat, water, and oil. For decades, they have been used in industrial applications and consumer products such as carpeting, apparel, upholstery, certain food paper wrappings, fire-fighting foams, and metal plating.


Two of the most studied compounds, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), have been found to be very persistent in the environment and in the human body and have come to be called “forever chemicals.” This means they do not break down and can accumulate over time. There are documented studies correlating exposure to PFAS that lead to adverse human health effects. As a result, these two particular compounds have been phased out of use among manufactures in the United States. Yet, there are still thousands of known PFAS compounds still being used in many commonly used products.


Below are a few examples of how people are exposed to PFAS:

Flow Chart of the way PFAS Flows through our world.

PFAS flow through our society creating several points of exposure. Being "forever chemicals," they are not easily or entirely removed from our society. Therefore, there is a lot of research going into effective and affordable ways to sequester these chemicals to limit exposure at the end use of materials containing PFAS. 

In Summary 

What we know about these chemical compounds: 

  • They consist of a category of over 4,000 man-made chemical compounds.

  • PFAS have been manufactured and used since the 1940’s.

  • PFAS repel oils, stains, and water. They are effective flame retardants.

  • PFAS have strong chemical bonds and do not breakdown easily.

  • PFAS are called “forever chemicals”; very difficult to breakdown in the environment and dispose.

  • They are found everywhere on the planet, including the North Pole.

  • Not all 4,000 of these compounds can be measured or traced.

  • Most studied compounds are PFOA & PFOS. Their use is being phased out. 

  • PFAS are a concern to human health and environment.

  • Food and diet are primary exposure route to people (70-85%).

Webinar - PFAS from a Solid Waste Industry Perspective

Legislative Info Session on PFAS, a solid waste industry perspective, on July 29, 2020.

US Environmental Protection
Agency: PFAS


Basic Information on PFAS. 

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District PFAS Initiative Website

Madison Metro. Sewerage District Website Screenshot

Basic Information on PFAS from a waste water treatment perspective.

Learn More

Site hosted by the WI Counties Solid Waste Management Association

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