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. However the small amount of PFAS seen in people are below health based guideline levels. Recent studies show people's exposure to PFAS in the general environment is reducing.

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.

Further information on the potential health effects and exposure pathways of PFAS is on the Australian Government Department of Health’s (PFAS) website. The site includes a fact sheet with frequently asked questions addressing community concerns over specific health effects. 

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 and PFHxS
  • 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 TDI have been used to determine environmental criteria for drinking water, recreational water and soil investigation levels. 

These criteria only use a small amount of the TDI, allowing for people to be potentially exposed to several different sources at a contaminated site (i.e. water, soil). If the TDI is exceeded, it does not mean there is an immediate risk to health. Instead further investigation should be undertaken to understand how people in the area are exposed. For more information on contaminated land and health see this page.

The Department of Health has calculated the drinking and recreational water quality values for site investigations.
  • 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 are presented within the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP, 2017).

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

Your health and the environment: learn and take action

 

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

Reviewed 8 April 2021