What Are PFAS? A Quick Overview

PFAS are a group of over 15,000 highly hazardous chemicals with a wide range of commercial applications. With regulations on these compounds on the rise all over the world, manufacturers need to be aware of their compliance obligations.

What Are PFAS? A Quick Overview

What Are PFAS?

Often abbreviated as PFAS, per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances are a group of over 15,000 synthetic chemicals known for their beneficial properties. PFAS are often waterproof, stain-repellant, and grease-resistant, among other qualities, making them great for everyday products like furniture, food packaging, electronics, and cosmetics. Since their introduction, these man-made substances have become essential in industries ranging from aerospace and automotive to electronics and medical equipment.

What Are PFAS Used For?

Over the course of the 20th century, PFAS were widely adopted by companies to improve their products. However, in the last few decades a series of lawsuits and studies shed light on the dark side of PFAS, including probable links between PFOA exposure and several types of cancer, as well as a range of other serious medical conditions. 

As a result of this information, governments and health agencies all over the world are beginning to explore new regulations and restrictions around their usage in products. As a result, manufacturers must now be more aware than ever of what PFAS their products (and manufacturing process) contains in order to prepare themselves for the growing number of PFAs-restrictive legislation in the United States and the European Union. 

Why Are PFAS Called “Forever Chemicals”?

PFAS are often referred to as forever chemicals because of their extraordinary persistence in our environment. Many PFAS compounds have half-lives of several decades in water and up to 1,000 years in soil. (A chemical’s half-life represents the duration of time it takes for the substance to decrease by 50%.)

Arguably even more dangerous, though, is the way PFAS levels can accumulate in human beings and other living organisms—a phenomenon known as bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation is difficult to reverse, too: it can take up to four years for the levels of these compounds to go down by half in the human body. (And thanks to a phenomenon known as biomagnification, animals like human beings and other large mammals that sit at the top of food chains are at the greatest risk of PFAS bioaccumulation.)

Bioaccumulation is difficult to reverse, too: it can take up to four years for the levels of these compounds to go down by half in the human body.

How Are Humans Exposed to PFAS? 

There are several well-established pathways for PFAS exposure among humans. The first and probably the most well-known is through drinking water. Contaminated water was one of the first environmental hazards that alerted the public to the potential dangers of PFAS in 1999, when DuPont was exposed for dumping PFOA into the Ohio River and poisoning the water supply for thousands of Americans. 

In addition to reaching the human body through drinking water, people can also be exposed to the harmful chemicals by eating specific foods with high concentrations of PFAS, including fish. (This exposure pathway is an example of biomagnification at work.) Certain professional occupations—including chemical manufacturing and firefighting, where gear and aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) with high concentrations of the chemicals are used—may also put individuals at heightened risk of PFAS bioaccumulation. 

What Are the Negative Health Effects of PFAS?

There’s still a great deal we don’t know about the long-term health impacts of PFAS exposure. Nevertheless, a growing body of research on the subject does contain some definitive conclusions. There is evidence that sufficient bioaccumulation of PFAS can increase a person’s risk of developing multiple forms of cancer, including kidney, testicular, and prostate. The chemicals can also cause developmental delays in children and adolescents, interfere with the body’s immune system, and disrupt healthy reproductive functioning in women. 

There is evidence that sufficient bioaccumulation of PFAS can increase a person’s risk of developing multiple forms of cancer, including kidney, testicular, and prostate.

This new body of research is leading many governments and agencies to consider a host of regulations around the use of PFAS in order to protect both the environment and the public at large. These regulations, which apply to a host of manufacturers, range from product-specific restrictions to outright mass bans. 

What Are the Current PFAS Regulations? 

Several agencies, international agreements, and governing bodies have restricted or even outlawed the use of specific PFAS as a result of their harmful effects. 

The Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention, a global treaty established to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), limits the use of several PFAS. The 186 participating countries have listed PFOA and PFHxS under Annex A of the Stockholm Convention, and PFOS under Annex B of the treaty. 

REACH: PFAS Restrictions

The European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals regulation (REACH) also imposes several PFAS compliance measures. REACH has listed three groups of the chemical compound as substances of very high concern (SVHC), and in 2023 the directive restricted the use of several types of PFCAs. (The European Chemicals Agency has published the specific conditions of these restrictions.) That same year, several countries in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) submitted a proposal that would restrict the use of around 10,000 PFAS. 

PFAS Regulation in the United States

In addition to federal regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), at least 35 states have introduced hundreds of bills limiting the use of these chemicals. The legislation includes maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for certain PFAS in drinking water and mandatory phase-outs for the chemicals in everything from apparel and carpeting to cleaning products. 

TSCA Section 8(a)(7)

Last fall, the EPA issued a final rule under TSCA Section 8(a)(7), Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. The regulatory directive will require all covered businesses to submit a detailed report to the EPA outlining their use of PFAS from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2022. (The reports are a onetime compliance obligation.) The EPA is using what it calls a “structural definition” of PFAS, and the rule will apply to U.S. manufacturers and importers of any one of more than 1,400 specific compounds. 

The information the EPA is requiring in these reports includes—but is not limited to—the chemical’s common name, CAS, and composition; the total volume of the chemical being manufactured or processed; maximum concentrations of the PFAS within the product; and any byproducts of the manufacturing process and their disposal processes. According to the EPA, the reporting standard for TSCA Section 8(a)(7) includes “all information in a person's possession or control, plus all information that a reasonable person similarly situated might be expected to possess, control, or know.” 

The EPA’s submission period for covered manufacturers and importers begins on November 12, 2024, and closes six months later, on May 8, 2025. (Certain smaller manufacturers may have larger reporting windows.)


The state of California has introduced a cluster of PFAS regulations that have either recently gone into effect or are slated to enter into force in the coming years. On January 1, 2023, California banned the use of PFAS in food packaging, including any intentionally added PFAS and any PFAS present in excess of 100 parts per million (PPM). (Many state laws use the phrase “intentionally added,” which generally refers to PFAS that are deliberately incorporated into the manufacturing process of a product and are a desired material that performs a specific function or contributes to specific properties.)

In addition, Assembly Bill 652, which became effective on July 1, 2023, prohibits the use of PFAS in any juvenile products sold in California (like the food packaging ban, the bill covers intentionally added PFAS and any PFAS at levels exceeding 100 ppm). Two more key bans will go into effect on January 1, 2025: a prohibition on the manufacturing, delivery, or sale of cosmetic products containing intentionally added PFAS, and a bill barring the manufacturing, distribution, or sale of textile articles containing PFAS at levels above 100 ppm (the state defines textiles to include apparel, accessories, furnishings, bedding, and other related products). 


In July 2021, Maine passed An Act to Stop Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Pollution (LD 1503). The legislation was a watershed moment for PFAS regulation, both nationally and worldwide, and it introduced several provisions that impose severe restrictions on PFAS use over time. 

  • Starting on January 1, 2023, the state prohibited the sale or distribution of rugs, carpets, and fabric treatments containing intentionally added PFAS (the regulation excludes used goods). 
  • Starting on January 1, 2026, Maine will ban the sale of a slew of additional products containing intentionally added PFAS, including cookware, cleaning products, cosmetics, textile articles, and dental floss. 
  • Starting on January 1, 2032, the sale of all products containing intentionally added PFAS will be banned in the state unless the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determines the specific PFAS use to be “currently unavoidable.”

In addition to these staggered prohibitions, Maine will also require specific manufacturers and distributors to adhere to PFAS reporting requirements by 2032. 


Nearly two years after Maine established a new precedent for sweeping PFAS regulations at the state level, Minnesota passed its own legislation banning the sale of products containing intentionally added PFAS. Signed by Governor Tim Walz in May 2023, HF 2310 introduces a similarly phased rollout of bans on products containing PFAS. 

  • Starting on January 1, 2025, Minnesota will ban the sale or distribution of carpets, rugs, cleaning products, cookware, cosmetics, and juvenile products, among other categories, containing intentionally added PFAS.
  • No later than January 1, 2026, manufacturers of products or components containing intentionally added PFAS must submit a report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) detailing the specific PFAS used in the product, the purpose of the chemical, and concentration levels (among other reporting requirements).
  • Starting on January 1, 2032, the bill prohibits the sale or distribution in Minnesota of any product containing intentionally added PFAS unless the MPCA deems use of the chemical “unavoidable.”

For more comprehensive information on current state-level regulations and pending legislation, visit saferstates.org.

What PFAS Compliance Obligations Do Businesses Have?

Businesses that use PFAS in their products, or import goods that contain the chemicals, need to be aware of the existing restrictions in their specific markets. Because of the speed and forcefulness with which PFAS compliance obligations are expanding all over the world, companies should also have a strong sense of how the regulatory landscape is shifting. Manufacturers and importers that develop a comprehensive understanding of evolving policies and directives will be able to respond quickly to new PFAS compliance requirements by modifying manufacturing processes, adapting supply chains, and communicating with at-risk suppliers. 

Beyond educating themselves on state, national, and international directives, companies interested in achieving compliance with PFAS regulations can carry out a few concrete steps. Organizations that think they may have exposure to PFAS in their product or product components should obtain a full material disclosure (also referred to as a full material declaration, or FMD) to gain complete visibility into the substances contained in their product. In addition, producing a certificate of compliance—either through carrying out due diligence measures or utilizing a third-party testing company—can give manufacturers a credible resource to provide to customers and supply chain stakeholders that demonstrates their adherence to existing PFAS regulations. 

Finally, a supply chain risk management (SCRM) tool like Z2Data consolidates a range of critical information—including FMDs, compliance statuses for parts, and supply chain mapping—to provide businesses with a comprehensive overview of their degree of compliance and where any regulatory vulnerabilities might lie. 

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