chemical information


Chemical Class:

Perfluorochemical (PFC)

Chemical SubClass

Perfluorinated sulfonate

Manufacturing/Use Status

use/production has been voluntarily discontinued in the U.S.

Found in these people:

Anonymous Adult 2, Anonymous Adult 3, Anonymous Adult 5, Anonymous Adult 4, Anonymous Adult 6, Anonymous Adult 7, Anonymous Teen 1, Anonymous Adult 9, Anonymous Adult 12, Anonymous Adult 13, Anonymous Adult 11, Anonymous Adult 10, Anonymous Adult 14, Anonymous Adult 15, Anonymous Adult 16, Nicholas, Anonymous Adult 17, Anonymous Adult 18, Anonymous Adult 20, Anonymous Adult 21, Baby #1, Baby #2, Baby #3, Baby #4, Baby #5, Baby #6, Baby #7, Baby #8, Baby #9, Baby #10, Anonymous Adult 1, Kathy Fowler, U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter, Participant #2, Participant #8, Kelsey Wirth, Michael Goodstein, Margie Roswell, Nina Damato, Nora Pouillon, Stephanie Berger, Participant #1, Participant #10, Fred Gellert, Adelaide Gomer, Ann Hunter-Welborn, Jesse Johnson, Anonymous Adult, Winsome McIntosh, Judi Shils, Participant #18, Lynde Uihlein, Participant #2, Participant #20, Jessica Welborn, Alicia Wittink, Irene Crowe, Martha Davis, Emily Sayrs, Participant #6, Anonymous Adult RN7, Anonymous Teen 22, Anonymous Adult RN9, Sara Corbett, Dr. Beverly Wright, Adult #108, Adult B, Baby B, Vivian Chang, Jennifer Hill-Kelley, Suzie Canales, Jean Salone, Cord Blood Sample 11, Cord Blood Sample 12, Cord Blood Sample 13, Cord Blood Sample 14, Cord Blood Sample 15, Cord Blood Sample 16, Cord Blood Sample 17, Cord Blood Sample 18, Cord Blood Sample 19, Cord Blood Sample 20

Found in these locations:

Chicago, IL; Newton, MA; Fredericksburg, VA; Washington, DC; New York, NY; Lamont, FL; Atlanta, GA; Mountain View, CA; Stanford, CA; Palo Alto, CA; San Francisco, CA; Berkeley, CA; NY, USA; Alamo, CA; Fallbrook, CA; Rockville, MD; Upstate New York, NY; Silver Spring, MD; Cambridge, MA; Bethesda, MD; Baltimore, MD; CA, USA; Belvedere, CA; Ithaca, NY; Encinitas, CA; Ross, CA; VA, USA; Milwaukee, WI; CO, USA; Littleton, CO; MD, USA; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Green Bay, WI; Corpus Christi, TX

Exposure routes:

No longer manufactured. Residual environmental contamination results in continued exposures.


Perfluorooctanesulfonate (or PFOS) was the active ingredient used for decades in the original formulation of 3M's popular Scotchgard stain and water repellent. PFOS does not break down in the environment, accumulates to a high degree in humans and wildlife, and is known to damage the liver and to produce severe birth defects in lab animals. Current theory holds that PFOS interrupts the body's ability to produce cholesterol, a necessary building block of nearly every system in the body (EPA 2000).

In May of 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forced 3M to phase out use of PFOS because of concerns about current levels of PFOS in human blood in relation to levels shown to harm lab animals. In a memo explaining its decision, the agency noted that PFOS combined "persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree," showed "widespread human exposure," and a "preliminary risk assessment indicated potentially unacceptable margins of exposure for workers and possibly the general population" (EPA 2000).

But the forced phase out does not mean that the chemical has ceased to be a problem. In fact, quite the opposite is true. In 2002 3M reported to the EPA that it had found PFOS in the blood of children in the general population at levels as high as found in 3M plant workers (up to 515 ppb) (3M 2002). PFOS is also found widely in the tissues of wildlife across the globe, including the most protected species and in the most pristine environments on earth (Giesy 2001; Kannan 2002).

One of the most striking toxicity-related findings was from a two-generation rat study looking at reproductive effects. At higher doses in the study, all of the progeny in the first generation died. At the lowest dose tested (0.4 mg/kg/day), may of the progeny from the second generation died. As the EPA duly noted in its 2000 memo, it is very unusual to see such second generation effects (EPA 2000).

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate)

Active ingredient in Scotchgard prior to 2000. Phase out forced by EPA because concentrations in human blood close to levels that harm lab animals.

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) has been found in 88 of the 88 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies. It has also been found in 1,580 of the 1,591 people tested in CDC biomonitoring studies.

Top health concerns for PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Birth defects and developmental delayslimited

Other health concerns for PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Hematologic (blood) systemunknown
Biochemical effectsunknown

Results for PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate)

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) was measured in different units for some of the studies. Overall it was found in 88 of 88 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies. The bars below are grouped by units:

in blood serum (wet weight)

Showing results from Other Body Burden Studies, Dateline NBC Families, Adult Minority Leader Report, EWG Study #6, consumer product chemicals in mothers and daughters, EWG/Commonweal Study #7, consumer product chemicals in adults and teens, EWG Study #8, chemicals in mother and 2 children, Dateline NBC Families, Pets Project

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 15 ng/mL (wet weight) in blood serum
  • found in 57 of 57 people in the group

CDC biomonitoring results

  • geometric mean: 26.2 ng/mL (wet weight) in blood serum
  • found in 1580 of 1591 people in the group
0.3 ng/mL (wet weight) in blood serum 298

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) results

in whole blood (wet weight)

Showing results from Pollution in Minority Newborns, EWG/Commonweal Study #4, industrial chemicals and pesticides in cord blood, EWG Study #3, industrial chemicals and pesticides in adults

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 2.56 ng/g (wet weight) in whole blood
  • found in 23 of 23 people in the group
0.352 ng/g (wet weight) in whole blood 16.2

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) results

in blood serum (wet weight)

Showing results from EWG Study #5, Teflon and mercury in blood in adults and teens

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 17.5 ng/g (wet weight) in blood serum
  • found in 8 of 8 people in the group
3.96 ng/g (wet weight) in blood serum 47

PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) results

Detailed toxicity classifications (References)

classification governing entity/references
Developmental toxicant - limited evidenceEPA (2000). Email message from Charles Auer (US Environmental Protection Agency) to OECD. U.S. EPA Administrative Record AR226-0629.
Hematologic system toxicity - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedEPA (2000). Email message from Charles Auer (US Environmental Protection Agency) to OECD. U.S. EPA Administrative Record AR226-0629.
Biochemical effects - weight of evidence unknown/unassessed3M (1999). Report of data for exploratory 28-day oral toxicity study in rats: telomer alcohol, telomer acrylate, [(CBI)], PFHS, PFOS. NOTOX project number 242933. Report prepared for 3M, St. Paul, MN by 3M Environmental Laboratory Fluorine Analytical Chemistry Team (FACT). Study No. FACT-TOX-120.3; NOTOX#24933 U.S. EPA Administrative Records AR226-0951 (metabolites) and AR226-1030a.
Cancer - limited evidence of carcinogenicityOther peer reviewed studies