PFAS and Environmental Health: Information and Tools for Public Health Practitioners and Information Specialists
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There are currently 86,000 synthetic chemicals in U.S. commerce, most of which have not been tested for toxicity [1]. Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of an estimated 12,000 or more different compounds that we are exposed to daily [2]. PFAS are widely used for their stain and water resistant properties in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including fire-fighting foam, food contact materials, dental floss, clothing, furniture, and textiles [3]. They are called “forever chemicals” because of their extreme environmental persistence which is attributed to their strong carbon-fluorine bonds [4]. As a result, PFAS are detected in the vast majority (98%) of U.S. residents [5]. They have been linked to numerous adverse health outcomes across the life course, including immune system effects, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and cardiometabolic disorders [2], [6]–[9].

The PFAS Project Lab is a multi-disciplinary research group that studies social, scientific, and political factors related to PFAS (The PFAS Project Lab ). We produce rigorous, accessible research about the PFAS contamination crisis through collaborations with impacted communities, leading interdisciplinary researchers, and nonprofits. In this presentation, we will discuss resources and databases offered by the PFAS Project Lab, including how public health practitioners and information specialists can use these resources to inform diverse stakeholders about PFAS exposure, health impacts, and policy implications. We will also provide overviews of multiple publicly available datasets on PFAS research, contamination, and state and community action.

This presentation describes the reliable resources that increase environmental health knowledge and inform diverse stakeholders on per and polyfluoroalkyl substances  (PFAS) exposures, health impacts, and policy implications. 

This webinar fits with the mission of the NNLM to provide public health professionals and the public at large equal access to environmental health resources to enable them to make informed decisions about population and their own health.  This class is for education and informational purposes in alignment with NNLM goals, the NNSC approved national initiative on Environmental Determinants of Health, and does not offer medical advice. By registering for this class, you are agreeing to the NNLM Code of Conduct.

This webinar series includes an accompanying guide. Each session has its own tab with information about the presenter(s) and related resources to the presentation topic.

[1]        O. US EPA, “About the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory.” Accessed: Nov. 02, 2023. [Online]. Available:

[2]        National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2022. [Online]. Available: Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up .

[3]        ATSDR, “Toxicological Profile: Perfluoroalkyls,” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences, Jun. 2018. Accessed: Oct. 23, 2019. [Online]. Available: Perfluoroalkyls | Toxicological Profile | ATSDR

[4]        K. Prevedouros, I. T. Cousins, R. C. Buck, and S. H. Korzeniowski, “Sources, Fate and Transport of Perfluorocarboxylates,” Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 32–44, Jan. 2006, doi: 10.1021/es0512475.

[5]        A. M. Calafat, L.-Y. Wong, Z. Kuklenyik, J. A. Reidy, and L. L. Needham, “Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals in the U.S. Population: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003–2004 and Comparisons with NHANES 1999–2000,” Environ Health Perspect, vol. 115, no. 11, pp. 1596–1602, Nov. 2007, doi: 10.1289/ehp.10598.

[6]        S. E. Fenton et al., “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research,” Environ Toxicol Chem, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 606–630, Mar. 2021, doi: 10.1002/etc.4890.

[7]        J. Varshavsky et al., “Heightened susceptibility: A review of how pregnancy and chemical exposures influence maternal health,” Reprod. Toxicol., Mar. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2019.04.004.

[8]        NTP (National Toxicology Program), “Monograph on Immunotoxicity Associated with Exposure to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS),” National Toxicology Program, Research Triangle Park, NC, 2016. Accessed: Nov. 12, 2019. [Online]. Available:

[9]        E. M. Sunderland, X. C. Hu, C. Dassuncao, A. K. Tokranov, C. C. Wagner, and J. G. Allen, “A review of the pathways of human exposure to poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and present understanding of health effects,” J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 131–147, Mar. 2019, doi: 10.1038/s41370-018-0094-1.

About the Speakers

Dr. Julia Varshavsky is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at Northeastern University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Health Sciences, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering. Julia previously worked at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in the California Environmental Protection Agency as a research scientist in epidemiology and biostatistics to conduct biomonitoring studies of health-related chemical exposures. Julia’s most recent position prior to joining OEHHA was as a postdoctoral researcher in environmental epidemiology and biostatistics for the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where she conducted biologically-based population-level studies on exposure and health risks associated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), and organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs). Specifically, her recent work highlights maternal-fetal exposure to PBDEs, PFASs, and OPFRs during mid-gestation in relation to biomarkers of placental development and disease that are associated with maternal and fetal health complications.

Julia aims to improve public health by studying reproductive and developmental health impacts related to EDCs commonly found in consumer and personal care products and identifying opportunities to reduce exposure and associated health risks among vulnerable populations. Julia earned her MPH and PhD in environmental health sciences at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. Her dissertation research focused on developing methods for; characterizing disparities in; and evaluating dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure. Prior to graduate school, Julia facilitated scientific dialogue and research translation around developmental impacts of environmental contaminants as the reproductive health working group coordinator for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE). Julia studied molecular biology as an undergraduate and contributed to laboratory research that improved chemical screening methods in water through microarray development.

Dr. Alissa Cordner is Associate Professor of Sociology and Paul Garrett Fellow at Whitman College. She teaches courses in sociology and environmental studies, including Environmental Sociology, Environmental Health, Social Research Methods, Sociology of Health and Illness and Environmental Justice.

Professor Cordner’s research focuses on environmental sociology, the sociology of risk and disasters, environmental health and justice, and politics and participation. Her two major areas of research are the social and political aspects of wildfire risk management and the social and scientific discoveries of perfluorinated chemicals.

Her award-winning 2016 book, Toxic Safety: Flame Retardants, Chemical Controversies, and Environmental Health, examines how environmental health risks are defined and contested, in the face of unavoidable scientific uncertainty and competing, powerful stakeholders. Drawing on in-depth qualitative research on a controversial class of chemicals used as flame retardants, Toxic Safety shows that stakeholders' strategic interpretations and presentations of scientific rationality, uncertainty and evidence directly impact environmental and public health.

Professor Cordner is the co-director of the PFAS Project Lab (PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) with researchers at Northeastern University. The lab focuses on social and scientific questions related to perfluorinated chemicals. This project engages Whitman students every year as research assistants. Alissa also serves on the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Management (NASEM) Standing Committee on the Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions.

Professor Cordner has published articles in numerous journals, including Environmental Sociology, The American Journal of Sociology, Health Affairs, Social Movement Studies, Environmental Science & Technology, Social Studies of Science, the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Teaching Sociology and Social Science & Medicine. She has also collaborated with a team at Brown University and New York University on a multi-sited collective ethnography in Providence, RI. Their 2014 book, The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life, focuses on civic engagement in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cordner grew up in Oregon's Willamette Valley. She attended Bowdoin College and majored in sociology and French. After graduating, she taught English and history courses at a university in France, worked as an environmental organizer in Oregon and she worked in youth wilderness programs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. She joined the faculty at Whitman in 2013. In addition to her academic research, she is a volunteer wildland firefighter with Walla Walla County Fire District #4.


By the end of this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Identify sources of PFAS and other environmental toxicants
  • Discuss the health consequences of PFAS and other toxicant exposures
  • Identify reliable resources to increase environmental health knowledge and inform diverse stakeholders on PFAS exposures, health impacts, and policy implications

Class Recording

Class Details

Date(s): March 26, 2024
Time: 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM EDT
Platform: Zoom
CE Credits: 1.50
CE Categories: CHES
Class Experience Level: Beginner
This class is sponsored by NPHCO.
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Class Contacts

Host/Instructor: Cecilia Vernes
Technical Assistance: Molly Knapp

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