What are PFAS and why should I be concerned?

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a family of 3,000+ human-made chemicals that have been used in commercial and industrial applications since 1940s. PFAS are found in non-stick coatings, waterproof fabrics, some firefighting foams, food packaging, and other products. PFAS are harmful “forever” chemicals that build up in the body and environment over a lifetime.

Studies in humans show PFAS may decrease fertility in women, increase the risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, increase cholesterol levels, decrease effectiveness of vaccines, increase the risk of thyroid disease, and lower infant birth weights.

The main human exposures to PFAS are from ingestion such as drinking contaminated water, eating food with PFAS-containing packaging, and eating fish caught from PFAS-contaminated water.

Solutions / Recommendations

Clean drinking water is a public health priority that requires multiple state agency collaboration. At the Water Quality Task Force Hearings DHS and DNR presented a collaborative process to address this emerging issue.  

In August 2019, Governor Evers made an Executive Order to create a PFAS coordinating council to bring state agencies and other together to inform and educate the public and set standards for PFAS. 

Legislators have also proposed polices to begin to address PFAS. Senate Bill 302, The CLEAR Act is one of the most comprehensive PFAS bills in the nation. The first step toward tacking PFAS pollution is setting standards in a comprehensive way like in the CLEAR Act, SB 302: 

  • Prioritizes protecting public health by requiring a statewide standard for 6 different types of PFAS chemicals.
  • Protects all water by requiring a health-based standard for drinking water, groundwater, surface water, emissions, solid waste, beds of navigable waters, and soils and sediment.
  • Requires DNR to set criteria to certify laboratories to test for PFAS to allow greater access for those that want to test their water for PFAS contamination.
  • Provides the vital resources and funding for modeling contamination sites, additional staff dedicated to PFAS, sampling and testing, and surveying local and state emergency responders.
  • Provides a health-based PFAS standards that will allow Wisconsin to move towards the development and execution of a robust prevention and cleanup plan.

PFAS timeline

River Alliance of Wisconsin created a PFAS timeline of pivotal events related to PFAS contamination and responses. A great resource for journalists, researchers, and local advocates, the timeline is updated monthly and includes links to primary documents and news articles. Visit the timeline on our website or contact Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh at [email protected] if you have questions, changes or additions to the timeline.

More Information

Explore the links below to learn more about PFAS pollution in Wisconsin’s waters.

Questions? Or, have a story to share on how PFAS have impacted you?
Contact us at [email protected]

(Sources: Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates)