Frequently Asked Questions
Below find answers to questions we commonly receive. You can also find the answers to many common inquiries in the harmful chemicals or our work sections of our website. If you have other questions you can contact us.
How can I find out if my water contains PFAS?
- Ask your water provider. This information may be provided on the annual consumer confidence reports that utilities are required to publish.
- Inquire with your state or local health department.
- Check the EWG/Northeastern University interactive map.
- If your water comes from a private well, consider having it tested, especially if you live near a potential source (e.g., airports, military sites, manufacturing facilities).
What is the safe level of PFAS in drinking water?
Scientists continue to do research in this area. Government agencies have published a variety of drinking water health guidelines for different types of PFAS. U.S. EPA uses a Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ng/L for PFOA, PFOS, or PFOA and PFOS combined. Several states have adopted lower guidelines or enforceable regulations for these and other PFAS chemicals. Independent researchers have suggested that the health protective level for PFOA in drinking water may be as low as 1 ng/L.
Our understanding of the health effects of PFAS will continue to evolve. In the meantime, it is prudent to reduce your exposure as much as possible
How can I buy products without PFAS?
PFAS are added to many products to make them water-, oil-, or stain-repellent, or non-stick. The following are general guidelines for avoiding products containing PFAS:
- Choose textiles and carpeting without water- and stain-repellency.
- Avoid food in contact with greaseproof packaging, such as microwave popcorn and some fast food.
- Avoid personal care products with “perfluor-”, “polyfluor-”, and “PTFE” on the label.
- Purchase cast iron, glass, or ceramic cookware rather than Teflon.
- Only purchase waterproof gear when you really need it.
- Note that “PFOA free” products often use similar chemicals instead.
- Support companies that are committed to phasing out PFAS.
You can also use the list of PFAS-free products we’ve compiled, here.
Finally, you can write to manufacturers and ask if their products contain PFAS (often you can do so via their website or email). Please note that answers like “our products meet all safety requirements” or “our products are PFOA- or C8-free” do not provide sufficient information.
What should I do with my Teflon pan?
The biggest harm associated with Teflon pans is during their production. Facilities that manufacture Teflon and similar materials have caused serious contamination of air, water, and soil in nearby communities.
To minimize your exposure from using your Teflon pan: do not preheat an empty pan, avoid cooking on high heat, and ventilate your kitchen. Prevent scratching by using non-metal utensils, and hand wash without the use of abrasive cleaning materials or products. Discard when you start seeing scratches. When replacing your old Teflon pan consider safer replacement options such as stainless steel, cast iron, or glass.
Our Institute lists some PFAS-free options here.
How can I remove PFAS from my drinking water?
A home water filtration system can lower the level of PFAS contaminants in drinking water. “Point of use” systems installed on individual taps are recommended over “whole home” systems. Researchers at Duke University found that point of use filters are better at removing long-chain PFAS than short-chain PFAS, and that reverse osmosis filters are more effective than activated carbon filters. A number of point of use filters have been certified by NSF International to reduce PFOA and PFOS levels to below the 70 ng/L health advisory level used by US EPA. As the Duke researchers reported, “no filters will remove all PFAS from your water, but with regular maintenance, ANY filter will be better than no filter at all.”
How can I find out if my home fire extinguisher contains PFAS?
Household fire extinguishers labeled “Dry Chemical” or “Carbon Dioxide” are unlikely to contain PFAS. Foam-type fire extinguishers are designed for fighting oil fires.
How can I buy furniture without flame retardants?
Look for the SB1019 label on products (see below), and choose those with the box checked for “no added flame retardant chemicals.” You can submit a written inquiry to the manufacturer (often via their website or email) providing detailed information about the product and asking if it contains flame retardants. Please note that answers like “our products meet all safety requirements” do not provide sufficient information. Learn more about flame retardants in furniture here.
New furniture rarely contains added flame retardants; always look at the label for verification.
How do I know if my old couch or other furniture contains flame retardants?
If your upholstered furniture was manufactured before 2015 or has a label stating that it meets California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117 - the old California standard; different than TB117-2013), then it probably contains flame retardant chemicals. The only way to know for sure is to have the foam tested (see below).
Can I get my product with foam tested?
A very small sample of polyurethane foam from your couch or other products can be submitted to Duke University for free testing to determine whether or not flame retardants are present. This is a free service to all US residents. For more information, visit the Duke University Foam Project. Testing for flame retardants in other types of materials is not readily available to consumers.
Have the flame retardants completely dissipated from my old furniture?
Flame retardants mostly stay in furniture foam. After more than 20 years, flame retardants were still present at high level in one cushion we tested. Most upholstered furniture manufactured before 2015 will contain flame retardants in the foam cushions.
What can I do to reduce my family’s exposure to flame retardants?
Most exposure to flame retardants occurs after the chemicals migrate out of a product’s foam and settle into household dust, which then enters our bodies by hand-to-mouth contact. The best way to reduce exposure is to remove products containing flame retardants from your home. You can reduce your exposure to contaminated dust by vacuuming frequently with a HEPA filter, wet mopping, and dusting with a damp cloth. Wash hands frequently, and always before eating, to reduce ingestion of dust containing flame retardants. Visit our Consumer Resources and Exposure pages to learn more.
Do slipcovers or leather material help prevent flame retardants from leaving the foam?
Unfortunately, slipcovers or leather offer no protection from harmful flame retardants.The chemicals are not bound to the foam, can easily travel through the covering into the air and then settle into dust.
Is my mattress treated with flame retardants?
Mattresses made after 2014 are not likely contain flame retardants in the foam.
The federal mattress standard, called 16 CFR 1633, requires that the mattress meet a severe and lengthy open flame ignition test. Barrier materials --such as fire-resistant fiber batting or boric acid-treated cotton fiber wrapped around the mattress foam--are used to meet this standard. These barriers do not contain harmful flame retardant chemicals. Certain foam materials, such as viscoelastic memory foam, are more likely contain flame retardant chemicals.
When purchasing a new mattress, contact the manufacturer to ask “does the mattress contain added flame retardant chemicals?” Answers like “meets all safety requirements” are not sufficient.
Are there flame retardants in foam pillows?
Foam pillows are not required to meet any flammability standards and therefore do not usually contain flame retardants. Some past studies found flame retardants in foam pillows, but this application has decreased since flame retardants stopped being used in furniture.
To test if your pillows contain flame retardants, see instructions here.
Is my child’s mattress treated with flame retardants?
Baby mattresses produced before 2014 are likely to contain flame retardants and should be avoided. Mattresses produced after 2014 are not as likely to contain the flame retardants, but you can verify with the retailer to make sure.
What should I do with my old furniture?
At present, landfilling may be the best option. We do not recommend passing on flame retarded products to others. Studies have shown that those living in lower-income households have higher levels of flame retardants in their dust and bodies. This is not surprising since couches manufactured before 2015 are likely to contain flame retardants. Learn more on our Responsible Disposal page.
Do children’s car seats contain flame retardants?
With the exception of children’s car seats, most children’s products are no longer required to meet flammability requirements and do not contain flame retardants.
Car seats usually contain flame retardants to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302 (FMVSS 302). To reduce children’s exposure to flame retardants, we recommend keeping children in their car seat only when in the car, discouraging children from eating while in their car seat, and frequent hand washing, especially before eating. You can find more information about how we’re exposed to flame retardants from products.
Car seats are also often treated with fluorinated stain repellent chemicals (PFAS). You can find a list of PFAS-free car seats on PFAS Central.
You can write the manufacturer to ask if your product contains a flame retardant or PFAS. Answers like “our products meet all safety requirements” do not provide sufficient information.
Is my carpet or carpet cushion treated with flame retardants?
Carpets are not usually treated with flame retardants. However, bonded polyurethane carpet cushion usually contains flame retardants. This cushion is often made from recycled flame retarded foam from older furniture. One solution to avoid flame retardants is to use natural wool, natural rubber, fiber or felt pad under carpeting rather than bonded foam carpet cushion.
Do children's sleepwear contain flame retardants?
Toxic “Tris” flame retardants were removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s, and it is unlikely that other halogenated flame retardants are used in pajamas. Sleepwear for children under 9 months of age and pajamas that are tight-fitting for any age should not contain added flame retardants. Some cotton pajamas may be treated, often with the phosphate chemical tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chloride (THPC or Proban aka Securest).
Do flame retardants have an odor?
Flame retardants are odorless. Volatile organic compounds are gases which may be harmful, have an odor, and can be emitted from many products.
Is there building insulation that I can use that contains no flame retardants?
Mineral wool, fiberglass, and other non-plastic building insulation can meet flammability standards without added flame retardants. Products called thermoset phenolic insulation are also often free of flame retardants. In California, polystyrene insulation (EPS or XPS), is not required to contain flame retardants if installed beneath a slab-on-grade.
Are PFAS flame retardants?
Generally no. In addition to being used as stain- and water-repellants, PFAS are sometimes used as fire suppressants. For example, they are used in fire-fighting foam to extinguish actively burning oil and gas fires.
How can I get my blood or organs tested for PFAS, flame retardants, or other chemicals?
This is outside of our area of expertise. However, below is some information that we have gathered on this topic.
- Lead: From CDC’s website: “Your health care provider and most local health departments can test for blood lead. Many private insurance policies cover the cost of testing for blood lead. Children covered by Medicaid are eligible for free testing.”
- Other contaminants: The following labs might be able to test for other contaminants.
The results will tell you how much of a specific chemical is in your blood, but not what the results mean for your health.
How can I find out if a product contains a substance of concern?
To try to obtain information about whether a product contains a chemical of concern you can write the manufacturer via their website. Answers such as below do not provide sufficient information.
- “Our products meet all safety requirements.”
- “All chemicals safe for intended use.”
- “Our products are PFOA- or C8-free.” (The product may contain other PFAS.)
- “BPA-free.” (The product may contain other bisphenols.)
Please note that we maintain a list of PFAS-Free Products.
Is it “toxic” or “toxin”?
Toxins are chemicals that are made by living things (e.g., snake venom). Toxics, or toxicants, are other chemical, biological, and radioactive materials that can harm human or ecosystem health. The Institute works on toxics, not toxins.
Do the Six Classes cover all the harmful chemicals I might encounter?
No. While the Six Classes cover many of the most common toxic chemicals in consumer products, there are other chemicals of concern that are either already being addressed via existing policies or do not fit neatly into one of these classes. These include pesticides, formaldehyde, PVC, asbestos, and parabens.
I have been diagnosed with an illness linked to a hazardous chemical, what can I do?
The Green Science Policy Institute works to facilitate safer use of chemicals to protect human and ecological health. While we track and communicate the fact that exposure to certain chemical classes has been linked to specific adverse health outcomes, this information should not be viewed as medical advice. If you are concerned about your health and/or possible exposure to a harmful substance, please contact your physician or health department.
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Can I have permission to use your materials?
You are welcome to use our materials as long as you credit the Green Science Policy Institute.