Me and My PFAS: TOGETHER FOREVER by Julia Murphy

Microwave popcorn has always been my favorite snack.  Specifically, Pop Secret homestyle flavor.  Every day after high school, I would throw a bag in the microwave, savoring the light crunch, melty butter, and hint of salt – all topped off with a sprinkle of Perfluorooctanoic acid.  The perfect snack.(1)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals found in some food packaging, firefighting foam, drinking water, shellfish, and consumer products.(2) PFAS are a group of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals.  They are also known as “forever chemicals” because their long chemical structures make them resistant to natural microbial degradation. PFAS have a half-life of 92 years in the environment and two to eight years in the human body.  Further, recent studies have revealed PFAS to be associated with adverse health effects for both humans and animals such as high cholesterol scores, low birth weight in infants, immune dysfunction, thyroid disorders, and cancers.(3)  So, should everyone who enjoys a bag of popcorn rush to the doctor?  How worried should we be about PFAS?

If it makes you feel any better, when it comes to PFAS we are all in this together!  Nearly all Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood.(4)  People that frequently eat foods with PFAS-contaminated packaging – such as microwave popcorn – have even higher levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood samples.(5)  Recent analysis of unpublished data from the EPA reveals that PFAS has contaminated the water supply of over 119 million Americans (map of PFAS water contamination found here).  Additionally, home filtration systems are largely ineffective at removing all PFAS from drinking water.(6)  If PFAS contamination is a nation-wide issue, why hasn’t the government taken action?

On a federal level, political gridlock has largely prevented Congress from taking any significant action to prevent PFAS contamination.  There is potential to move legislation forward in the 117th Congress with the narrow Democrat majority, but Americans cannot rely on this policy avenue to safeguard their health against PFAS.  The best bet for sweeping PFAS regulation lies with state representatives.  A handful of states have begun to pass PFAS regulations, but we are far from comprehensive legislation.  We need to pressure our state representatives to guarantee access to safe drinking water for all Americans, especially communities of color and low-income communities which bear a disproportionate burden from PFAS contamination.(7)

In order to demand PFAS regulation, we first need to understand what has already been done.

As of 2015, an EPA global stewardship program succeeded in halting the manufacturing of PFOA and PFOS in the United States through voluntary corporate commitments.(8)  Unfortunately, PFOA and PFOS are only two of many types of PFAS.  Further, these chemicals are still imported into the United States in consumer goods and firefighting foam.  Therefore, water sources continue to grow more contaminated by the day from firefighting foam runoff and dumping of chemical manufacturing waste.

In 2019, H.R. 535 – PFAS Action Act was proposed to the United States Congress.  The bill would require the EPA to classify PFAS as hazardous substances.  This classification is significant because it would designate any site contaminated through PFAS dumping or runoff as a Superfund site.(9) Under the CERCLA Act of 1980, parties responsible for hazardous substance contamination must independently fund the cleaning of Superfund sites.(10)  Therefore, this bill would make polluters responsible for cleanup of the community water sources they contaminate.

The PFAS Action Act passed in the House of Representatives on January 10th, 2020.(11)  The bill has not been moved to a vote in the Senate, but has little chance of passing amidst the narrow Democrat majority.(12)  Therefore, it is unlikely the “hazardous waste” designation will be secured anytime soon.(13)

With the Federal Government at a stalemate, we look to the states to champion PFAS regulation.

States are leading the effort to intensify PFAS drinking water advisory benchmarks – the maximum concentration of PFAS that can be in water for it to be considered “safe.” The EPA sets the advisory at 70 parts per trillion for drinking water.(14)  Meaning, for every trillion water molecules there cannot exceed 70 molecules of PFAS.  However,  New Jersey has the most strict regulations in the U.S. with a benchmark of 10 parts per trillion.(15)  If we cannot rely on federal agencies to safeguard our health in setting benchmarks, then state governments need to take action (to see if your state has taken action to regulate PFAS in drinking water look here).  Advisory benchmarks alone are not enough, we need sweeping regulation in order to control PFAS contamination.

What would comprehensive PFAS regulation at the state level look like?  It would look like Washington.(16)  In 2018 the Washington State Legislature passed HB2658 which prohibits the manufacture and sale of food packaging containing any amount of PFAS.  Washington Senate Bill 6413 also passed in 2018 which recalls and bans Class B firefighting foam to which PFAS chemicals have been added. House Bill 1194 requires manufacturers of consumer products to annually report use of PFAS chemicals.  House Bills 1102 and 119 jointly provide nearly $5 million in funding for PFAS research and cleanup.(17)  This is the type of sweeping, comprehensive legislation that every state should be passing in order to protect the health of its residents.

Every American should be guaranteed access to clean water.  Nobody should have to wonder if there are invisible toxins in their morning coffee or their kid’s water bottle. In the midst of this federal legislative gridlock, a few state legislatures have begun to set safe health advisory levels, remove PFAS from food packaging, and prevent PFAS runoff and dumping.  However, if we hope to secure access to clean drinking water for all Americans, each and every state needs to take immediate action.  PFAS contamination is an avoidable problem if we choose to lead with compassion and listen to science.

For Pete’s sake,  I want to have my popcorn and eat it too.



  1. Marill, Michele Cohen. “’Forever Chemicals’ Are in Your Popcorn-and Your Blood.” Wired, Conde Nast, 10 Oct. 2019,
  2. “PFAS Chemical Exposure.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 June 2020,
  3. “Basic Information on PFAS.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 14 Jan. 2021,
  4. Evironmental Protection Agency. 2019, pp. 1-72, EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan.
  5. Marill, Michele Cohen. “’Forever Chemicals’ Are in Your Popcorn-and Your Blood.”
  6. Herkert, Nicholas J., et al. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Point-of-Use Residential Drinking Water Filters for Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs).”
  7. Reed, Genna. “PFAS Contamination Is an Equity Issue, and President Trump’s EPA Is Failing to Fix It.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 30 Oct. 2019,
  8. “Risk Management for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) under TSCA.” Assessing and Managing Chemicals Under TSCA, Environmental Protection Agency, 20 Feb. 2020,
  9. Dingell, Debbie. “H.R.535 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): PFAS Action Act of 2019.”, United States Congress, 13 Jan. 2020,
  10. “What Is Superfund?” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 30 Nov. 2018,
  11. Dingell, Debbie. “Actions-H.R.535-116th Congress (2019-2020): PFAS Action Act of 2019.”
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. “Attack on PFASs Extends to Food Packaging.” The National Law Review, Keller and Heckman, 23 Mar. 2020,
  15. Herkert, Nicholas J., et al. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Point-of-Use Residential Drinking Water Filters for Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs).”
  16. “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): State Legislation.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2020.
  17. Ibid.


7 thoughts on “Me and My PFAS: TOGETHER FOREVER by Julia Murphy

  1. I had never heard about PFAS until reading this blog, so now I am glad I can watch out for these man-made chemicals as well as other harmful chemicals when I am eating. However, I am curious as to why the Democratic majority Senate would be unable to pass the PFAS Action Act. It would seem to me that Democrats would vote along party lines, which would result in the Senate passing this bill especially as it works towards the improvement of human health and protection from these toxic chemicals. Additionally, I find it super frustrating that Congress allows partisanship to get in the way of passing such environmental legislation that clearly acts in the best interest of American citizens. In the midst of political polarization and gridlock, I wonder if the solution you suggested (state legislation) is the best way to pass any sort of environmental legislation or regulations. More specifically, I relate this to the example of plastic bags where it has been in the hands of states and localities to determine whether there is a tax, ban, or nothing when it comes to plastic bags; however, given that PFAS are dangerous chemicals, I would hope all states take similar action to New Jersey or Washington so that humans don’t continue to be affected by PFAS in their water.

  2. Like Joseph, I also had never heard about PFAS. I think it is interesting to think about how much of the food we consume may have these harmful chemicals in them, and if there is truly a feasible way to avoid them as individuals without larger regulations minimizing their impact. Looking at the map that you linked in the blog, North Carolina seems to be a pretty large hotspot for PFA contamination in drinking water. I looked into this and an article published last year in the Duke Today ('s%20drinking%20water%20is,in%20the%20state%2C%20Ferguson%20said.) that mentions a few reasons for this. One being that there is a wide range of industrial and military sites in the states. Another interesting fact that this article brought up was how a lot of North Carolina soil naturally contains a PFAa called, hexavalent chromium. I find it hopeful that despite legislation at the federal level states such as Washington have taken it into their own hands to create lasting legislation.

  3. Very well written blog, Julia! You really made me think about how the packaging materials of the foods I eat could impact my health and the environment. After reading your blog, I was curious if other foods I consume also have PFAS in their packaging and found that fast-food wrappers, take-out containers, and pet food bags can also contain these chemicals ( Reading your blog also made me think back to a class I took during my freshman year, called Genetics & Epigenetics. In this class, we talked about how exposure to some chemicals can go beyond impacting solely the person who is exposed to the chemicals, and can be passed on to the future generations of the exposed person through epigenetic markings. Curious whether my hypothesis that PFAS can result in epigenetic modifications was true, I did a quick Google search and found that studies have confirmed that PFAS lead to epigenetic modifications (, leading to detrimental health effects.

  4. Strangely enough, in a class last semester I had to do a whole project on PFAS. I chose this class of chemicals for the same reason you wrote about them – they are everywhere and it’s shocking that so few people are aware (personally I had no idea what they were before that project). What’s interesting about the chemical industry is that once they realize a certain class of compounds (such as PFAS) will be regulated, they engineer a slightly different set of molecules that accomplish the same things (create packaging, etc.) but are slightly less detrimental to the environment…that is, until they find out that the re-developed version causes a separate set of problems. For example, in terms of PFAS, a new class of chemicals that was slightly shorter, called “fluorotelomers” was engineered and used for a bit of time (for the nitty gritty details, click here: Though these molecules can be broken down better than classic PFAS, they volatize much more easily, which means they get into the air and spread that way. Is that better than PFAS, which stays mostly in the water? Probably not. But this happens all the time! The chemical industry is well-intentioned in the sense that it wants to make human lives easier, but is definitely in need of greater regulation.

  5. After reading this blog, I will add PFAS to the long and growing list of man-made pollutants and odd chemicals in food. Regarding the federal government, I agree with Joseph. It is very disappointing that Congress is unable to write and pass effective environmental legislation for the benefit of the American people efficiently. We’ve talked about gridlock before, and this scenario is a prime example of how much of a barrier this concept is. While state legislation seems promising, there is no guarantee that every state will follow the example set by Washington. Would you say that the variation in affiliations and individual beliefs of legislators decrease the capability of efficient state legislation?

  6. Thanks for this blog post, Julia. I thought this was really interesting and I learned a lot. Most intriguing to me was the reliance on state legislatures to pass legislation as opposed to Congressional action on a federal level. To me, PFAs seem like a significant issue that requires comprehensive legislation that institutes country-wide guidelines regarding their usage. It is unfortunate that gridlock and polarization restrict our ability to implement regulations that are necessary to American citizen’s health.
    The abundance of PFAs in our food and drinker water makes me question what other chemicals we consume on a daily basis. I worry that by the time we are old, we will find out that so much of what we consumed while we were young contain harmful toxins. The government needs to do a better job of regulating the toxins we consume. If not, we may face catastrophic consequences down the road.

  7. Thanks for the awesome blog post! PFAS is something I’ve personally heard a lot about because I’ve taken two classes with Lee Ferguson and one with Heather Stapleton (two people I recommend speaking with if you want to know anything and everything about the topic). For instance, Lee shared with me that the EWG map of PFAS contamination that you shared (which they update frequently) is potentially under representative of how bad the problem is because blank areas don’t represent areas where PFAS was found but rather places that haven’t been tested. I believe that they have detected PFAS pretty much everywhere they test for it, which is really scary. I wasn’t aware of the legal action that is being taken currently. I’m disheartened that the federal government is unlikely to actually protect its citizens, but it’s also very encouraging that many states are taking it upon themselves to put strict regulation in place. Hopefully more states will get their acts together on PFAS and on other potentially toxic chemicals.

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