Most Americans oblivious to PFA risks

A survey conducted by the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) on public awareness of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, has found that most Americans do not know what the substances are or have knowledge of any potential associated risks.

PFAS are a category of thousands of manufactured chemicals and an emerging concern to environmental and human health.

PFAS are called ‘forever chemicals’ because their bonds between carbon and fluorine molecules, one of the strongest chemical bonds possible, make PFAS removal and breakdown very difficult.

“This is the first survey of its kind, and what we found is that the vast majority of people do not have a clear understanding of PFAS,” said TWRI interim director Dr Allen Berthold, lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

PFAS compounds have been used in industry and products since the 1940s, including fire extinguishing foam, non-stick cookware, food wrappers and many other consumer goods. Levels of PFAS compounds have also been detected in food and water supplies.

Americans largely unaware of PFAS chemicals

In March, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a national standard for PFAS in drinking water.

However, the survey suggest that as communities continue to grapple with how to ensure their water supplies do not contain unsafe levels of PFAS, most consumers are completely unaware there is an issue with these chemicals.

“When I ask an audience at a public presentation if they’ve ever heard of PFAS, usually only a few people from a room of 100 will say yes, and that’s fairly consistent with these survey results,” Berthold said. “PFAS in drinking water has received media and regulatory attention this year, but the general public’s awareness of the contaminant had not been measured until this research.”

The survey measured and analysed US residents’ knowledge of PFAS, experience with PFAS, and perceptions of potential environmental and health risks related to PFAS.

Notable findings

Some 45.1% of respondents had never heard of PFAS and did not know what they are, and 31.6% responded that they had heard of PFAS but did not know what they are.

Some 11.5% knew their community had been exposed to PFAS.

Some 97.4% did not believe their drinking water had been impacted by PFAS.

In July this year, the US Geological Survey published research showing that at least 45% of the nation’s tap water was estimated to contain one or more types of PFAS chemicals.

change their use of items with potential PFAS contamination, and answer that their drinking water sources were also contaminated with PFAS.

The survey was conducted online, and 1,100 respondents from across the US participated.

Some 45.1% of respondents had never heard of PFAS and did not know what they are, and 31.6% responded that they had heard of PFAS but did not know what they are.

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