The Shocking Truth About PFAS Contamination Sites

You might be surprised to learn that everyday items like the non-stick pan you used for breakfast or the stain-resistant carpet in your living room could contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues.

These chemicals, known as PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are so stubborn that they’ve earned the nickname “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily and accumulate in our bodies and the environment.

A study has revealed over 57,000 potential PFAS hotspots across the United States. This includes industrial sites, wastewater treatment plants, and military bases, all identified as likely sources of these forever chemicals. This blog post will delve into this research, uncovering these hotspots and exploring the implications for our health and future.

Understanding PFAS Chemicals

PFAS chemicals are chains of carbon and fluorine atoms bonded tightly together, forming one of the strongest bonds of chemicals. That makes these compounds incredibly resistant to breaking down.

But why should you be worried about these microscopic chemicals? PFAS chemicals aren’t confined to chemistry labs but in our kitchens, closets, and bathrooms. These chemicals are pervasive, making our lives easier, but at a potential cost to our health.

The issue is that PFAS don’t stay put. They leach into our soil and water, contaminating our drinking water and food. Research indicates that approximately 45% of U.S. tap water could be tainted with PFAS.

Once inside our bodies, they accumulate over time, potentially leading to a range of health problems, from reproductive issues to cancer.  Therefore, despite being invisible and tasteless, PFAS pose a significant threat that cannot be ignored.

Discovering Unexpected PFAS Contamination Sites

PFAS contamination is not confined to a single source but is present in unexpected places. Closer examination reveals numerous sites contributing to the spread of these “forever chemicals” and their adverse effects on human health and the environment.

Military Bases

While essential for national defense, military bases have significantly contributed to the PFAS problem due to their extensive use of AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) firefighting foam.  AFFF is highly effective in extinguishing fuel fires and contains PFAS chemicals.

For decades, military bases have used AFFF in training exercises and emergencies, inadvertently releasing these “forever chemicals” into the environment.  This has resulted in groundwater contamination, reaching alarming levels in some instances. For example, Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado has reported PFAS levels in groundwater of around 299,000 ppt, exceeding the EPA’s health advisory limit by 4,200 times.

The widespread use of AFFF on military bases has not only polluted water sources but also led to legal action. AFFF lawsuits have been filed by those affected by PFAS exposure, seeking compensation for health problems and environmental damage. These lawsuits aim to hold AFFF manufacturers liable for the harm caused by their products.

TruLaw reports that 3M, a major AFFF manufacturer, was ordered to pay $850 million to the State of Minnesota for contaminating state resources.  Service members, their families, and nearby communities have all been impacted. This is a crucial problem that affects those who serve our country and the communities they reside in.


Like military bases, airports have historically relied on AFFF to combat fuel fires, resulting in a legacy of toxic contamination. When sprayed, the foam permeates the ground, potentially polluting nearby water sources. Although the FAA has initiated efforts to phase out the use of AFFF containing PFAS, the existing contamination remains a significant concern.

Industrial Facilities

Industrial facilities are a significant source of PFAS contamination. Many products designed to resist stains, water, or grease are manufactured in factories that utilize PFAS. These chemicals can be released into the environment through wastewater discharge or improper waste disposal.

Industries like paper mills, tanneries, and electronics manufacturers are mainly known for using PFAS. However, it’s not just large-scale operations that contribute to the problem; smaller businesses like metal plating shops and dry cleaners can also contribute.

Wastewater Treatment Plants

Wastewater treatment plants, though seemingly unrelated, contribute to the PFAS cycle. Studies reveal that PFAS concentrations in these plants can vary from 89–173 ng L-1, with perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs), disubstituted phosphate esters (diPAPs), and perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids (PFSAs) comprising the most significant proportions of overall weekly concentrations at 37%, 30%, and 17% respectively.


When PFAS-containing products are washed or discarded, they enter the wastewater system. Although treatment plants filter out some pollutants, PFAS often remain, contaminating the water released into the environment. This creates a problematic cycle to disrupt.

Other Sites

Landfills and incinerators are also potential sources of PFAS contamination. When PFAS-led products are disposed of in the landfills, these chemicals can leach into the soil and water. Incinerators, alternatively, can release PFAS into the air during the waste incineration process.

The Human and Environmental Cost of PFAS

The actual cost of PFAS contamination extends far beyond monetary value. It’s a price paid in human health, environmental damage, and financial burdens on communities. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a wide range of health problems, including:

  • Cancer: High risk of kidney, testicular, and prostate cancer.
  • Reproductive issues: Decreased fertility and pregnancy complications.
  • Developmental delays:  Learning and behavioral problems in children.
  • Immune system suppression: Increased susceptibility to infections.
  • Hormone disruption: Changes in thyroid function and cholesterol levels.

It’s not just humans who suffer; wildlife and ecosystems also bear the brunt of PFAS contamination. Globally, these chemicals have affected more than 330 animal species, accumulating in fish, birds, and other animals, leading to reproductive problems, developmental issues, and even death.

Beyond the health and environmental toll, there’s a substantial financial burden. Testing for PFAS contamination, cleaning up polluted sites, and providing medical care for those affected all come with a hefty price tag. A study has identified the cost of PFAS-related diseases in the USA to range from $5.52 billion to $62.6 billion.

These costs often fall on taxpayers and local communities, who may face other economic challenges. The financial impact of PFAS contamination can ripple through entire regions, affecting property values, tourism, and economic development.


What Is the US Government Doing About PFAS?

The U.S. government has taken several actions to address PFAS, including setting the first-ever national drinking water standard for six PFAS, designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, and funding to help communities test for and treat PFAS in drinking water.

What States Have the Highest PFAS Levels?

Michigan has the highest number of PFAS contamination sites and some of the highest detected levels in drinking water. Other states with significant PFAS contamination include California, New Jersey, and those in the Ohio River Valley.

How Many Americans Have PFAS in Their Bodies?

Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found PFAS in 97% of all Americans tested, indicating widespread exposure. It’s safe to say the vast majority of Americans have been exposed to and have PFAS in their bodies.

What Can You Do?

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry; you’re not powerless against PFAS contamination. You can take numerous actions to protect yourself, your family, and your community.


First and foremost, educate yourself. Learn about the various types of PFAS, their sources, and their potential health impacts. Research possible contamination sources in your area. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed choices.

Next, consider testing your water. If you’re concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, you can have it tested by a certified laboratory. Home test kits are also available, but they might not detect all types of PFAS.  Knowing what’s in your water is crucial for taking appropriate action.

Finally, raise awareness. Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about PFAS. Share this blog post. The more people informed about this issue, the greater the collective demand for action will be.