All of us are exposed to small amounts of PFAS in everyday life. This is through exposure to dust, indoor and outdoor air, food, water, and contact with consumer products that contain PFAS, such as outdoor gear (e.g. waterproof clothing), new carpets and cookware. This explains why there are background levels of these chemicals found in people who have no occupational exposure to PFAS.

enHealth’s guidance regarding PFAS outlines 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. EnHealth advises, “although there is uncertainty around the potential for PFAS exposure to cause significant adverse human health effects… it is prudent to reduce exposure to PFAs as far as reasonably practicable.” Possible links between PFOS and PFOA exposure and several health effects have been reported in epidemiological studies around the world, however, many of these findings have been inconsistent, with some studies identifying health effects and others finding none.

Experimental laboratory studies indicate possible effects on the immune system, liver, reproduction and development of animals. However, because PFAS behaves differently in the bodies of animals compared with humans, the results of animal studies may not reflect the potential for health impacts in humans. Because these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.

For further information on the potential health effects and exposure pathways of PFAS, see the Australian Government Department of Health’s (PFAS) website.

In 2017, the Australian Department of Health requested that the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) review interim health-based guidance values for PFAS, previously prepared by enHealth Council. Health-based guidance values indicate the amount of a chemical in food or drinking water that a person can consume on a regular basis over a lifetime without any significant risk to health.

FSANZ derived guideline values in the form of tolerable daily intakes (TDIs) of:

  • 20 ng/kg bw/day for PFOS 
  • 160 ng/kg bw/day for PFOA.

The values were based on information found in research studies performed in laboratory animals. The full report is on the Australian Government Department of Health's website.

The Department of Health has calculated new drinking and recreational water quality values for site investigations based on the final tolerable daily intake levels for Australia.

  • The drinking water quality value is 0.07 µg /L for PFOS and PFHxS and 0.56 µg /L for PFOA.
  • The recreational water quality value is 2 µg /L for PFOS and PFHxS and 10 µg /L for PFOA.

Environmental criteria for soil were also based on the TDI and are presented within the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP, 2017).

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has published a literature review and report on the health effects of PFAS.

Read next

About PFAS

PFAS and EPA's role

PFAS in the environment

PFAS and waste

PFAS use in Australia

PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP)

Future plans for regulating PFAS: PFAS NEMP 2.0


This page was copied from EPA's old website. It was last updated on 20 May 2020.

Reviewed 26 August 2020