What Areas Have High PFAS Use In US?

Where are PFAS levels highest? Near airports, firehouses, military bases, agriculture farms, and more. Learn how to protect yourself from PFAS.

As awareness about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) grows, it's natural to feel concerned about exposure.

After all, these “forever chemicals” are seemingly everywhere. They’re used in everything from nonstick pans to stain-resistant furniture to firefighting foam. PFAS are known to contaminate our water, air, and soil. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to many health concerns, including cancer, reproductive and immunity problems [1]. With the various uses of PFAS, some communities face greater risks of PFAS exposure than others. Here are some areas where PFAS contamination tends to be more prevalent:

Industrial Facilities

Areas near factories that manufacture or use PFAS in their products or processes are at higher risk of contamination. PFAS are widely used in industrial settings due to their unique properties. 

These chemicals are incredibly resistant to heat, water, and oil, making them ideal for various applications. For instance, they are used in the production of water-repellent clothing, ski wax, cosmetics, packaging, and so much more.

PFAS can enter the environment through air emissions, wastewater discharges, and improper disposal practices. Once released, these chemicals are remarkably resistant to breakdown, which is why PFAS are often referred to as forever chemicals. As a result, PFAS can accumulate in soil and water sources over time, leading to long-term contamination.

Military Bases, Firehouses, and Airports

Military bases and airports have historically used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) containing PFAS.  These chemicals are highly effective at rapidly extinguishing flammable liquid fires, such as those involving jet fuel. That’s why they’re also used to extinguish fires by firefighters. 

This extensive use has led to significant groundwater contamination in many of these areas. Communities near these sites may be exposed through contaminated drinking water sources. 

Efforts are being made to stop using firefighting foams that contain PFAS, but cleaning up existing contamination takes time. In the meantime, affected communities need ongoing cleanup and access to safe water sources.

Landfills and Wastewater Treatment Plants

When we say PFAS are everywhere, we mean it! You can find PFAS in dental floss, pizza boxes, umbrellas, artificial turf, car upholstery, and so much more. 

The stain, water, grease, and fire resistance of PFAS make them useful for product production. However, they are not good for landfill waste. 

Landfills and wastewater treatment plants can be significant sources of PFAS contamination. As consumer products containing PFAS break down in landfills, these chemicals can leach into groundwater and soil. 

Similarly, wastewater treatment plants may not effectively remove PFAS, allowing these chemicals to enter water bodies and potentially contaminate drinking water sources.

Communities of Color and Disadvantaged Communities

Studies show that communities with more Black and Hispanic/Latino residents are often exposed to higher levels of harmful PFAS chemicals in their drinking water [2]. This is because PFAS pollution sources like factories, military bases, airports, and landfills are often located near these communities. 

These areas suffer more because of historical zoning laws, economic challenges, and less political influence, leading to higher levels of PFAS contamination and health risks.

Rural Areas with Private Wells

Rural areas that rely on private wells for drinking water can also be at significant risk of PFAS contamination. While urban areas often show higher detection rates of PFAS due to monitoring and dense populations, rural communities may not have the same level of scrutiny or resources to detect and address the issue. 

Private wells are especially vulnerable because they are not regulated or routinely tested like public water systems. This means that residents might unknowingly consume water contaminated with PFAS, posing serious health risks. This risk is particularly high if these rural communities are located near sources of PFAS pollution, such as industrial facilities, military bases, airports, or landfills.

The lack of regulation and testing, combined with proximity to PFAS sources, makes it crucial for rural communities to be aware of potential contamination and to seek water testing and filtration solutions to ensure safe drinking water.

Agricultural Areas

Some farms use biosolids, which are nutrient-rich materials from treated sewage. Biosolids are used as fertilizers to make the soil healthier and increase crop production. However, these biosolids can be contaminated with harmful PFAS chemicals. 

PFAS can enter the sewage system from sources like factories, household products, and waste. When farmers use these contaminated biosolids, they can accidentally spread PFAS into the environment.

When PFAS-contaminated biosolids are applied to farmland, the chemicals can seep into groundwater, affecting water used for irrigation or drinking [3]. PFAS can also wash into nearby rivers and lakes, spreading the pollution further. These chemicals are very stable and can stay in the environment for a long time, making the contamination an ongoing problem.

Additionally, crops grown in soil treated with PFAS-contaminated biosolids can absorb these chemicals, which then enter the food chain. Animals that graze on these fields or drink contaminated water can also build up PFAS in their bodies. This means that PFAS can end up in vegetables, meat, milk, and other animal products, posing health risks to people who consume them. 

States with High PFAS Exposure Levels

Certain states in the US tend to have higher PFAS exposure due to various factors, including industrial activities, military bases, and the use of firefighting foams. Michigan stands out as the state with the most significant number of PFAS contamination sites, with 192 known locations [4]. 

This high number reflects both the severity of the contamination and the state's comprehensive efforts to test for PFAS. Other states with notable PFAS contamination include California, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Alabama, Washington, Maryland, and Massachusetts. These states have numerous sites where PFAS have been detected in drinking water, often linked to industrial discharges, military bases, and other sources. States that do not show much PFAS contamination often have not tested for it yet.

To stay informed about PFAS contamination in your area, you can use the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Interactive PFAS Map. This map is a comprehensive resource that documents publicly known PFAS pollution in public water systems, military bases, airports, industrial plants, dumps, and firefighter training sites across the United States.

The map is regularly updated with new data, making it a valuable tool for tracking PFAS contamination and understanding its impact on communities. By using this interactive map, people can stay informed about the latest information on PFAS contamination and take the necessary precautions to protect their health.

What to Do If You Live In An Area with High PFAS Exposures

Living in an area with high PFAS exposures can be worrying, but don't lose heart! There are practical steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

The key is to stay informed and take action. Keep an eye on updates from your local health department about PFAS levels in your area, and consider attending community meetings to learn more. It's also a good idea to test your water whether you use well water or a public supply.

Once you know your situation, you can make smart choices to reduce your exposure. Using water filters certified to reduce PFAS for drinking and cooking can make a big difference. 

Be mindful of the products you use at home, too. Look for PFAS-free labels on things like cookware cleaning products and carpets. Bbeware of PFOA-free labels, which do not ensure the product is free of other PFAS. If you grow your own food, use clean soil and water and check local advisories about consuming fish and game from your area. 

Remember, you're not alone in this! Consider joining community groups that advocate for cleaner environments and support policies aimed at reducing PFAS pollution. By taking these steps you're not just protecting your family but contributing to a safer environment for everyone.


[1] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00255 
[2] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.2c07255 
[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969720335373 
[4] https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/mapping-pfas-contamination-crisis-new-data-show-610-sites-43-states