PFAS Frequently Asked Questions

Airway Heights PFAS Exposure Assessment

Q. What are PFAS?

A: PFAS is an acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are manmade substances that repel water, oil and stains. Two of the most common PFAS are perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Q: What are PFOS and PFOA?

A: PFOS and PFOA are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to produce stain-resistant, water-resistant and non-stick products. Use of some of these chemicals has decreased in the United States over the last 10 years. People can still be exposed to PFOS and PFOA because they are still present in the environment. PFOS and PFOA do not break down easily in the environment. They also build up in the bodies of exposed humans and some animals.

Q: What are the potential health effects from PFOS and PFOA?

A: Most people in the U.S. already have PFOS and PFOA in their bodies. Some studies on people exposed to PFOA and PFOS over a long period of time indicate that exposure may:

  • Increase cholesterol levels.
  • Increase uric acid level, a precursor for cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduce birth weight and affect the developing fetus.
  • Increase some types of cancers: prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer.
  • Decrease fertility and interfere with body’s natural hormones.
  • Affect the immune system—reduced immune responses to vaccines in children.

Q: Do I need to seek immediate medical attention?

A: No. At your routinely scheduled medical visit, mention to your provider that you have possibly been exposed to the chemicals.

Q: Do I need to get my blood levels tested?

A: Speak with your healthcare provider. Note that this does not require immediate medical attention. At your routinely scheduled medical visit, mention to your provider that you have possibly been exposed to the chemicals.

Q: How do I get my drinking water well tested?

A: Contact Spokane Regional Health District at 509.324.1560 ext. 3.

Q: Do I have to get my well tested?

A: You are not required to have your private well tested; however, if your well is located near an area of FAFB known to contain PFOS/PFOA in the groundwater, USAF and EPA recommend that your well be tested to ensure the health and safety of your family.

Q: My water has been previously tested, why wasn’t I told about this before?

A: PFOS/PFOA are not included in routine drinking water sampling since they are classified as an emerging contaminant. Emerging contaminants do not have established regulatory standards, but evolving science has identified potential risk to human health, and regulatory standards are under consideration by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Q: How can I be exposed to PFOS and PFOA?

A: PFOS and PFOA are typically found near areas where they are manufactured, used or disposed of such as:

  • Public water systems and drinking water wells, soil, and outdoor air near industrial areas with frequent PFOS and PFOA use
  • Indoor air in spaces that contain carpets, textiles, and other consumer products treated with PFOS and PFOA to resist stains
  • Surface water (lakes, ponds, etc.) and run-off from areas where aqueous (water-based) film-forming firefighting foam (AFFF) was used (like military or civilian airfields)
  • Locally caught fish from contaminated bodies of water
  • Food items sold in the marketplace

Consumer products can be a source of exposures to PFOS and PFOA. These products include

  • Some grease-resistant paper, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and candy wrappers
  • Nonstick cookware such as Teflon® coated pots and pans
  • Stain resistant coatings such as Scotchguard® used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics
  • Water resistant clothing such as Gore-Tex®
  • Cleaning products
  • Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)
  • Paints, varnishes, and sealants

Q: Is it safe to use affected water for bathing, cleaning, laundry, dishwashing, etc.?

A: It is safe to use affected water for purposes other than drinking or cooking. Water consumption into the body poses the health risk.

Q. Can I eat produce from my garden that was watered with PFAS-contaminated water?

A. According to limited information, plants are not expected to uptake PFOA and PFOS. However, PFAS may still accumulate in garden soil, so it’s recommended that you wash or scrub all dirt off produce before eating. You can also minimize exposure by

  • Peeling and washing root vegetables with PFAS-free water
  • Wearing garden gloves when working in the garden and wash hands with soap and water afterward
  • Adding clean compost to garden soil; increasing organic content in the soil reduces your plants’ PFAS uptake
  • Bringing in clean soil and building raised beds
  • Installing an activated carbon filter to remove PFAS from garden irrigation water.

Q: What are Health Advisory Levels (HAs)?

A: EPA develops health advisories to provide information on contaminants known or anticipated to occur in drinking water that can cause human health effects. EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. To provide residents, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOS and PFOA from drinking water, EPA established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in May 2016. When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA should be compared with the 70 ppt health advisory level. More information can be found at the EPA website

Q: I am planning to install a well in the West Plains of Spokane County, near Fairchild Air Force Base; do I need to worry about PFAS contamination?

A: Anyone drilling or using a drinking water well in the area near Fairchild Air Force Base where known or suspected groundwater contamination occurred (due to USAF use of film-forming firefighting foam) is strongly advised to be aware of the potential for PFAS contamination. While well drilling is still permitted in this area, Spokane Regional Health District is notifying licensed well drillers about the potential for PFAS contamination when they notify the health district of their intent to drill.*

The area of suspected impact lies south and east of Deep Creek Canyon and is bordered on the south and east by Fairchild AFB-Thorpe road and Hayford Road, respectively.

* Well drillers must comply with Chapter 173-160 WAC, including WAC 173-160-181, which specifies the requirements for preserving natural barriers to ground water movement between aquifers. For more information, contact the Washington State Department of Ecology Water Resources Program at 509.329.3400.