Health Impacts

Information about PFAS health risks and how to reduce exposure.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals used in commercial and industrial applications. These chemicals are highly resistant to degradation and once released into the environment they can be mobile in water, soil and groundwater. This may lead to exposure through drinking water, food, or dusts. Long-term exposure to certain PFAS may harm human health. The NHDES Environmental Health Program helps to evaluate risks and provide residents with information to reduce exposures to PFAS and other harmful chemicals.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has identified the following health effects as potential outcomes from exposure to PFAS:

  • Changes in cholesterol and liver enzyme levels.
  • Small changes in infant birth weight.
  • Changes in the immune system and response to certain vaccines.
  • Increased risk of preeclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers (i.e., kidney and testicular).

Reducing your exposure to PFAS in combination with healthy lifestyle habits can reduce the risk of these and other adverse health outcomes. If you have concerns about these or other health effects, you should first have a conversation with your physician. For additional questions about clinical guidance, blood testing for PFAS or health concerns, see the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Service’s PFAS Webpage.

a boy holds a basketball while drinking from a bubblerInformation and resources on reducing exposure to PFAS

While research on the health effects of PFAS is an evolving area of science, reducing exposure is an important part of reducing risk. Common sources of exposure to PFAS include certain commercial products (e.g. food packaging, fabric treatments and stain-resistant coatings) as well as contaminated drinking water.

Federal, state and local partnerships

NHDES and the Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS) work closely with federal partners at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). This includes a cooperative agreement with ATSDR to help communities reduce exposure to environmental hazards. This is accomplished through a variety of programs managed by ATSDR and our state partners.

a math equation on a whiteboardEnvironmental Health Program and APPLETREE Assessments

The Environmental Health Program conducts “risk assessments” to evaluate the risk from exposure to chemicals like PFAS. The links below provide technical support information about our existing guidance for drinking water, fish consumption advisories, soil contact and other site-specific issues.

Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

What are the PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA health standards for New Hampshire?

Maximum Contaminant Level nanograms/liter (part per trillion, or ppt) 

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – 12 ppt
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) – 15 ppt
  • Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) – 18 ppt
  • Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) – 11 ppt

Are there limits for PFAS other than PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA?

The U.S. EPA released final drinking water health advisories for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) and GenX in June 2022, as well as interim (temporary) health advisories for PFOA and PFOS. More information about these EPA health advisories is available on the EPA website. NHDES evaluates the peer-reviewed scientific information and recommendations from federal partners to determine if additional guidance is needed. This includes reviewing toxicological information about novel PFAS and exposure through water, soil, air and wildlife.

Can I cook with the water?

If your water is above the current standards, NHDES recommends using an alternative source of water for cooking. Boiling water does not remove the regulated PFAS and may concentrate PFAS into some foods. Consuming foods that contain PFAS increases your overall exposure as ingestion is the primary way PFAS enter the body.

Can I use the water for bathing, showering or cleaning?

The NHDES PFAS standards are based on water ingestion because this is the main pathway that PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and PFHxS enter the human body. These standards do not determine a “safe” level for skin contact. Current evidence indicates that showering and bathing is not the primary route of exposure for currently regulated PFAS. In certain occupational scenarios (e.g., firefighters, fluorochemical workers, or other specialty industries), skin contact may present a significant source of exposure due to direct contact with concentrated formulations of PFAS. 

Can I irrigate my home-grown vegetables and fruits?

The NHDES PFAS standards are not intended as guidance for home gardening. Like other chemical contaminants, certain fruits and vegetables can transfer some PFAS from soil into the leaves, stems and fruits of the plant. The rate at which this occurs in certain produce is currently being studied by universities, as well as state and federal governments to determine if additional guidance is appropriate.

Can I use the water to irrigate my lawn?

The NHDES PFAS standards are not intended as guidance for lawn care. NHDES provides guidance for PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA in soils based on risks from contact with soil materials. However, the relationship between irrigation water PFAS and soil concentrations is currently unknown. See the NHDES memo: Direct Contact Risk-Based Soil Concentrations of PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA.

Should I be concerned about my pets?

You should first speak with your veterinarian if you have specific health concerns about your pets. Drinking water standards are developed for the protection of human health, not companion animals. A limited body of research indicates that companion animals (e.g., cats and dogs) are likely exposed to PFAS from drinking water, food, food packaging and various household products. Most animals process or “bioaccumulate” PFAS differently than humans and the exact levels that may cause harm are unknown at this time.

I am a breastfeeding mother drinking water above the PFAS drinking water standards, should I breastfeed my child? 

Children can be exposed to PFAS through breast milk. Parents with concerns should consult their physicians. However, breastfeeding has many known health benefits, including helping to decrease obesity, building a strong immune system and enhancing brain development. Given the many benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child, breastfeeding continues to be recommended, even if a breastfeeding mother drank water with PFAS above the drinking water standards/MCLs.