PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of manufactured chemicals. There are thousands of types of PFAS, including: 

  • perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)  
  • perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)  
  • perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

Many products contain PFAS, including carpets, clothes and non-stick cookware. In the past, fire-fighting foams also contained PFAS.

PFAS and EPA: A quick reference guide (publication 1836)

PFAS in the environment

There are low levels of PFAS in soil, sediment, water and animals across most of Victoria. Some locations, such as firefighting training sites, have higher levels of PFAS in the environment.  

There is worldwide concern about PFAS because they: 

  • are widely used 
  • stay in the environment for a long time 
  • move easily through animals, water and land 
  • can build up in animals and people.  

PFAS and human health

Most of us are exposed to low levels of PFAS. This may be from using products that contain PFAS compounds, or from eating food or drinking water with PFAS in it. This is unlikely to be harmful to our health. Recent studies show people's exposure to PFAS in the general environment is reducing.

Scientific studies in animals have shown some links between PFAS exposure and health effects. There is no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, or cause any specific illnesses, even in the case of highly exposed occupational populations.

However, we still do not know everything about how PFAS affects human health. This is why EPA takes a precautionary approach and advises Victorians to take care and reduce their exposure to PFAS.

Watch this video for more information:

PFAS and Your Health – Dr Andrea Hinwood

Video transcript
Dr Andrea Hinwood
Former Chief Environmental Scientist
EPA Victoria

What are PFAS, or Per- and poly-fluoroalkylated substances? They’re a large group of manufactured chemicals. Many industrial and household products contain PFAS, including carpets, clothes and non-stick cookware. Fire-fighting foams in particular have contained PFAS.
What do we know about PFAS in the Victorian environment? We generally find very low levels of PFAS in the environment in Victoria. Sometimes we will see higher PFAS levels at sites where products containing PFAS, like firefighting foams, have been used.
Most of us have got low levels of PFAS in our blood. PFAS usually enters our body by eating, it’s the most common source. At very low levels we generally see in Victoria, this is unlikely to be harmful.
What is EPA’s position on PFAS? While scientific research continues, consistent with federal guidelines from the Environmental Health Standing Committee, known as enHealth, EPA takes a precautionary approach. We advise everyone to reduce their exposure to PFAS. We also recommend that people follow EPA’s health advice for specific locations, which are published on our website. 
What are we doing to better understand how PFAS affects human health?
There’s lots of research going on into the potential health effects of PFAS around the world and we’re keeping up to date with that. The Australian Government has commissioned the Australian National University to undertake an epidemiological study at several sites across Australia. 
For further information visit our website.

How to reduce your exposure to PFAS  

Some ways to reduce exposure to PFAS include:

  • follow EPA’s advice when we issue alerts about PFAS  
  • wash your hands after touching soil 
  • check ingredients in personal care products 
  • avoid products containing PFAS.  

Reviewed 1 June 2023