The Majority of Americans Unaware of ‘Forever Chemicals’ and Associated Risks, According to Research

In the inaugural comprehensive U.S. study addressing public awareness of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Texas A&M AgriLife scientists discovered that a significant majority of Americans lack familiarity with these substances and are largely uninformed about potential associated risks.

APA 7: TWs Editor. (2023, November 20). The Majority of Americans Unaware of “Forever Chemicals” and Associated Risks, According to Research. PerEXP Teamworks. [News Link]

PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, constitute a diverse group of thousands of synthetic chemicals, posing growing concerns for both environmental and human health. Termed “Forever chemicals,” their resilience arises from the exceptionally robust carbon-fluorine molecular bonds, rendering the removal and breakdown of PFAS a challenging task.

Allen Berthold, Ph.D., the lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE and the Interim Director of the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI), emphasized that this survey marks the first of its kind. The key finding reveals that a significant majority of individuals lack a comprehensive understanding of PFAS.

Employed in various industries and consumer products since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have found applications in items such as fire extinguishing foam, nonstick cookware, food wrappers, and a myriad of other consumer goods. The presence of PFAS compounds has also been identified in food and water supplies.

Limited awareness among Americans regarding PFAS chemicals

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put forth a national standard proposal for PFAS in drinking water. While communities navigate the challenge of safeguarding their water supplies from unsafe levels of PFAS, a majority of consumers remain oblivious to the existence of issues related to these chemicals.

Berthold notes that during public presentations, when he queries the audience about their awareness of PFAS, only a small fraction—typically a few individuals out of a hundred—acknowledge familiarity with the term. This alignment with the survey results underscores the limited awareness among the general public regarding PFAS. While media and regulatory attention on PFAS in drinking water has heightened this year, the extent of the public’s awareness had not been quantified until this research was conducted.

The research, with Stephanie deVilleneuve from TWRI as the corresponding author and research specialist, featured co-authors Audrey McCrary, a program specialist, and Michael Schramm, a research specialist. As a team, they conducted a comprehensive assessment of U.S. residents’ understanding of PFAS, their encounters with PFAS, and their perceptions of potential environmental and health risks associated with these substances.

Key findings from the study include:

  • 45.1% of survey participants indicated they had never encountered the term PFAS and lacked knowledge about its nature, while 31.6% reported having heard of PFAS but were unable to identify its characteristics.
  • Only 11.5% of respondents were aware that their community had experienced exposure to PFAS.
  • A substantial majority, specifically 97.4%, expressed the belief that PFAS had not impacted the quality of their drinking water.

Presence of PFAS found in tap water

In July, research from the U.S. Geological Survey revealed that a minimum of 45% of the country’s tap water was estimated to be contaminated with one or more varieties of PFAS chemicals.

McCrary highlights recent research indicating that a considerable number of Americans are exposed to PFAS, often unknowingly, through sources like drinking water supplies. The acknowledgment of this significant knowledge gap underscores the pressing need for addressing and bridging the information deficit regarding PFAS exposure.

According to Schramm’s findings in the study, the most robust indicator of PFAS awareness was the level of community exposure.

Schramm points out a significant observation from the study: among those individuals who were conscious of their exposure to PFAS, roughly half admitted to lacking knowledge about what PFAS actually are. This underscores a substantial information gap in the communication and dissemination of details to the public regarding PFAS and its potential impact.

Those respondents who were cognizant of community exposure demonstrated a higher likelihood of being informed about the sources of PFAS, altering their usage of items potentially contaminated with PFAS, and acknowledging contamination of their drinking water sources with PFAS.

Survey overview

Conducted online, the survey engaged 1,100 participants from various regions in the United States. Schramm spearheaded the comprehensive data analysis of the responses, while Berthold, McCrary, and deVilleneuve played pivotal roles in crafting the survey methodology and overseeing its administration.

The research revealed that there were no substantial variations in PFAS knowledge, encounters, and risk perceptions when examining different demographic groups.

DeVilleneuve highlights a noteworthy aspect: the absence of statistical distinctions based on factors such as race, gender, or age. The uniformity in perception observed across diverse demographics is a key finding from this fact-finding research. As interest in PFAS remediation continues to surge, this study establishes a foundational dataset that will prove valuable for future investigations and initiatives.


  1. NEWSPAPER Lee, L. & Texas A&M University. (2023, November 17). Most Americans are oblivious to “forever chemicals” and risks, research finds. []
  2. JOURNAL Berthold, T. A., McCrary, A., deVilleneuve, S., & Schramm, M. P. (2023). Let’s talk about PFAS: Inconsistent public awareness about PFAS and its sources in the United States. PLOS ONE, 18(11), e0294134. [PLOS ONE]

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