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Safe Water, Food, and Air is a Fundamental Human Right

PFAS Action - A Guide to the PFAS Pollution Crisis

Published May 2024

Families across the country are being harmed by PFAS and other toxic chemicals. Solutions to this crisis are being implemented in certain states across the country, including requiring the use of safer materials, banning toxic chemicals, cleaning up existing pollution, and holding polluters accountable. But more needs to be done.

Elected officials can end this public health crisis and usher in a new era of healthy communities.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are a class of more than 12,000+ chemicals used to make products resist grease, oil, water, or heat. They are commonly used in cookware, cosmetics, clothing, carpets, and firefighting foams among thousands of other products. PFAS are also widely used in industrial processes and then discharged into waterways. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment.

Why Should We Be Concerned?

A growing body of scientific research has found links between PFAS exposure and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility in men and women, and increased risk of thyroid disease.

PFAS Threatens Lives and Livelihoods of Firefighters, Families, and Farmers

PFAS Threatens Our Drinking Water

Turning on the tap in our homes shouldn’t be dangerous, but for Laurene Allen (pictured here) in New Hampshire, Sandy Wynn-Stelt in Michigan, and millions of other Americans, their tap water is contaminated with PFAS, a class of chemicals used in consumer products that have polluted more than 5000 drinking water systems across the country. 

The Toll of PFAS Contamination on Young Lives

Young people like Amara Strande have lost their lives after drinking water polluted with PFAS. Amara spent the last months of her short life advocating for the elimination of PFAS, leading to the adoption of Amara’s Law in Minnesota. 

PFAS Pollution’s Impact on Frontline Communities

Loretta LaCentra lives across the river from a facility in Saugus, MA that burns trash including PFAS waste. She and her neighbors worry about what is in their air, water and fish.

Firefighters Risk Cancer from Exposure

Captain Vinnie Messina lost his brother, Mauro, to glioblastoma. Both were firefighters in North Carolina who spent decades surrounded by PFAS in their turnout gear, in firefighting foam and in smoke from burning products that contained PFAS.

Farmers Are Losing Their Livelihoods

Farmers like Adam Nordel, owner of Songbird Farm in Maine, are having to shut down due to polluted sludge spread on their land decades ago.

PFAS in the News

PFAS pollution is a public health crisis that receives almost daily attention from national news outlets.

What's Happening Now?

What Are States Doing to Address the PFAS Crisis?

Turning off The Tap: States are leading efforts to stop the use of PFAS in favor of safer solutions. Maine, Minnesota and Washington have given state agencies the authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products as well as requiring companies to disclose their use.

Several other states have adopted phase-outs of PFAS in key sectors including firefighting foam, cosmetics, apparel, carpets and rugs, cleaning products, cookware, food packaging, dental floss, kids products and menstrual products.

Cleaning it up: State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to establish standards for certain PFAS in drinking water. Eleven states have established Maximum Contamination Levels with another twelve setting health advisory levels in drinking water. States are also starting to test surface water, sludge and air for PFAS contamination.

Holding Polluters Accountable: As of April 2024, 30 US State Attorneys General have initiated litigation against the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals for contaminating water supplies and other natural resources.

How Is the Market and Federal Government Responding to the State’s Lead?

Over 30 retail chains have committed to eliminating or reducing PFAS in food packaging, textiles and/or other products.

In April 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency set strict drinking water limits for seven PFAS and declared two PFAS as hazardous materials under the nation’s Superfund law, expediting clean up of legacy contamination.

The General Services Administration also announced new procurement measures to ensure all cleaning products purchased by the federal government must be free from PFAS

What More Needs to Be Done?

PFAS is still being used in a variety of products and we need to make sure alternatives are safer.

PFAS are still being discharged from industrial facilities and contaminating water.

Families, farmers and firefighters need restitution for the impacts they have suffered due to PFAS contamination.

PFAS Isn’t The Only Problem

Other Classes of Chemicals Threaten Public Health


  • Chemical pollution: A 2022 report revealed that chemical pollution has crossed a planetary boundary, the point at which human changes push the Earth past a stable environment. 
  • Additives in plastic harm health: Plasticizers like phthalates and bisphenols have been linked to infertility, cancer and developmental harm yet are ubiquitous in plastics, building materials, food packaging, and even food. 
  • Toxic plastic harms communities: At any given moment up to 36 million pounds of toxic vinyl chloride, the same chemical that spilled in the disaster in East Palestine, are being shipped via rail across the United States. 
  • Chemicals in plastics can harm children: Scientific research has identified over 16,000 chemicals used in plastic and over a quarter of these chemicals can harm human health, including having devastating impacts on children
  • Toxic flame retardants still used in products: Toxic flame retardants are still commonly used in electronics and building insulation despite evidence of neurodevelopmental harm caused by these chemicals and questions about whether they provide true fire safety benefits.
  • Solvents linked to breathing problems and even death: Industrial solvents and solvents in common household items pollute the air we breathe and water we drink, even killing some who use them. 
  • Firefighters at front lines of exposure: Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters due to the high number of chemicals they are routinely exposed to.

Chemical Production is Accelerating Climate Change

Graph source: UPEN’s Global Chemicals Outlook II report
  • The climate crisis and plastics crisis are linked. There is no way to address the climate crisis without addressing the plastics crisis.
  • Chemicals and plastics come from oil and gas. Fossil fuels responsible for the climate crisis—oil and natural gas—form the backbone of the chemical and plastics industry, making up to 99% of its raw material.
  • Chemicals and plastics production is increasing. As demand for fossil fuels for power production and transportation fuels declines, the oil and gas industry is boosting its production of chemicals and plastics.
  • Plastics contribute to climate change. The plastics industry releases about four times as many planet-warming chemicals as the airline industry, equivalent to 600 coal-fired power plants.
  • Families living near facilities are impacted. The domestic plastics and petrochemical build-out is increasing pollution in already unjustly impacted communities such as Louisiana’s infamous “Cancer Alley,” home to more than 150 industrial facilities and refineries.
  • Plastics could undo climate progress. Plastic production is growing so fast that, if left unchecked it will undo any progress that is made on reducing emissions in other sectors.


State and federal lawmakers face huge challenges to the chemical pollution crisis and local lawmakers are on the front lines bearing the cost and burden of cleaning up pollution. Fortunately, the solutions necessary to address these challenges are already starting to be implemented in states and cities. Adopting these initiatives will lead to a safer and healthier world for everyone. 

  1. Stop using toxic chemical classes and start using safer materials. With the knowledge about harm and the increasing availability of safer solutions, there is little reason to continue using harmful chemicals. Multiple states have stepped up to ban the use of PFAS and other harmful chemical classes in consumer products and more should follow suit
  2. Empower the public, retailers, and regulators with information and resources. We can’t clean up what we don’t know is there. Most consumers have no idea what kinds of chemicals are in the products they use.  Manufacturers and users of harmful chemicals need to be transparent about their use and discharge of toxic chemicals. 
  3. Clean it up. There is widespread contamination of drinking water, surface water, groundwater, soil, and sludge by PFAS and other toxic chemicals which is incredibly challenging and expensive to clean up. Polluters should be held accountable to clean up contamination, and compensate communities for the harm they have caused.


Success In The States

Washington Adopts Historic Cosmetics Bill

In May 2023, Washington passed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, the first law in the nation to ban several chemicals of concern in beauty and personal care products.

Maryland Enacts George 'Walter' Taylor Firefighter Protection Act

The George “Walter” Taylor Act bans the use of PFAS in several products including firefighting foam. The act is named after a firefighter who died from occupationally related-cancer.

Connecticut Clean Water Action Governor signing PFAS bill

Connecticut Restricts the Use of PFAS

Connecticut passed a bill banning the use of PFAS in several products. The signing ceremony took place at the Farmington River in Windsor, CT—the site of the tragic spill of firefighting foam in 2019.