What are PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (‘PFAS’) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used globally, since the 1950s, in the manufacture of household and industrial products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.
Examples of PFAS uses include stain protection for carpets, fabric, furniture and apparel; cosmetics; sunscreens; paper coating; plastics; electronic parts for printers and copiers; insecticides; metal plating; photographic materials; aviation hydraulic fluid; and medical devices. Because they are heat resistant and film forming in water, some have also been used as very effective ingredients in fire-fighting foams.
Why are PFAS a problem?
The release of PFAS into the environment has become a concern because these chemicals do not break down easily by any natural process, so they can persist in humans, animals and the environment. Governments across Australia are recommending that people reduce their exposure to PFAS wherever possible, as a precaution, while further research on the potential human health effects continues. For more information, go to the Health section.
Due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment. The levels of some PFAS, particularly PFOS and PFOA, are generally declining in the environment naturally over time, as their use in Australia is being reduced wherever possible. For more information, go to the Environment section.
Could I be affected by PFAS?
In the environment
It is important to understand that, due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment, and most of us will have a detectable level of PFAS in our blood, through exposure to the wide variety of PFAS-containing products in our everyday lives.
There are a number of specific sites across Australia, where run-off from the historical use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams has resulted in increased levels of PFAS in surrounding soil and water. You can find information on these sites on the Investigations page.
Outside of these identified investigation areas, unless you live near industrial areas, landfill sites, or firefighting training grounds where PFAS-containing foams were used, it is unlikely that increased levels of PFAS would be present in your local environment.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) published a report in April 2017, entitled ‘Perfluorinated Chemicals in Food’, which included a Dietary Exposure Assessment.
What did FSANZ find in the Dietary Exposure Assessment?
Due to the lack of available data, FSANZ was not able to do a formal dietary assessment for the general population. However, dietary exposure to PFAS in the general food supply is likely to be low.
Communities from or near Contaminated Sites
People consuming certain foods sourced from or near contaminated sites may reach the tolerable daily intake for PFOS or PFOS and PFHxS combined when they consume their usual amounts of that food.
Occasional exceedances of the TDI from consumption of a specific food are not a public health concern.
For PFOA, the amount of food sourced from or near contaminated sites that can be consumed before exceeding the tolerable daily intake is much higher than the amount people normally eat.
Will PFAS be regulated in food?
FSANZ concluded that there are insufficient data to recommend a regulatory approach and set maximum limits in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code). This is consistent with the findings of other international agencies. No other country in the world has set regulatory limits for PFAS in food.
FSANZ has proposed a non-regulatory tool, referred to as ‘trigger points’. When measuring levels of PFAS in certain foods, state and territory governments could use this tool to identify whether further investigation may be required if PFAS is detected in analysed foods. If required, the agencies could then provide information to the community to assist them in minimising their exposure, for example, through releasing a food advisory.
Is there PFAS in the general food supply?
Although there is currently limited information available on PFAS in the general food supply, dietary exposure to PFAS from the general food supply is likely to be low.
People growing and consuming their own produce in PFAS investigation areas should follow the most current advice provided by the investigating agency and/or the relevant state Environment Protection Agency.