PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid or perfluorooctanoate. Classified as a per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), PFOA is used in some aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) used in firefighting and fire training.
In past decades, PFOA has also been used in the manufacture of consumer goods such as microwave popcorn bags, cleaning products and cookware such as Teflon.
There is significant data that shows that PFOA is a carcinogen and is toxic to the liver and the immune system. Research also shows it has a significant impact on thyroid hormone levels. The damage is not limited to humans; toxic levels of PFOA have been found in animals as well. This can again harm humans if those animals or their by-products (e.g. eggs) are consumed.
The US Environmental Protection Agency added PFOA to its list of emergent contaminants, stating that it, and PFOS, are "extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to typical environmental degradation processes. They are widely distributed across the higher trophic levels and are found in soil, air and groundwater at sites across the United States. The toxicity, mobility and bioaccumulation potential of PFOS and PFOA pose potential adverse effects for the environment and human health."
For information about PFOA from the Australian Department of Health, click here.