What is PFAS and How Does it Affect the Fire & Emergency Service?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a collection of manufactured chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, Gen X, and many other chemicals. The larger body of chemicals are referred to as fluorinated chemicals, and are characterized by strong fluorine-carbon bonds.

Fluorinated chemicals’ indestructible quality is also what makes them an effective firefighting tool. The chemical enables aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to act as a thermal and evaporation barrier. In the event of a fire, AFFF inhibits and eventually extinguishes combustion.

The fire and emergency service has become increasingly aware of the health threats posed by fluorinated chemical exposure and contamination. IAFC members should be aware of PFAS as it may be present in AFFF and has the potential to affect human health.

Excessive exposure to PFAS is thought to affect the following in humans:

  • The immune system
  • Cancer (for PFOA)
  • Thyroid hormone distribution (for PFOS)
  • Hormone production and regulation
  • Cholesterol levels

The following official factsheets provide more information about the background, health effects and properties of PFAS:


EPA News on PFAS PFOA Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS and GenX
chemicals. Since the 1940s, PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe,
including in the United States. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals.
Both are very persistent in the environment and in the human body. Exposure to certain PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.