Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water

PFAS - The Forever ChemicalsSince the 1940s, certain chemicals originating from manufactured substances around the world have been present and making their way into our environment. Known as PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, these groups of manmade chemicals include PFOS (a key ingredient in some fabric protectors and stain repellents) and PFOA (often used in the making of Teflon and other compounds). Out of more than 4,000 varieties of PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA are among the most commonly produced.

The “Forever Chemicals”

Although they are no longer used in manufacturing in the U.S., PFOS and PFOA are already present in our water. In many industrialized countries where these chemicals are found, it is estimated that most people have measurable amounts in their systems.

Because these chemicals continue to persist in the environment and in our bodies, they have been dubbed the “forever chemicals.”

Current Regulations on PFAS

  • No federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) — yet
  • In February 2019, the EPA announced a PFAS Action Plan that would include establishing MCLs for PFOS and PFOA
  • Lifetime health advisory from U.S. EPA is 79 parts per trillion (ppt) for limited combined exposure to PFOS and PFOA — this is non-enforceable though
  • Many states, however, plan on moving forward with their own regulations without waiting for federal action
    • New Jersey: Only state so far to set MCL (13 ppt for PFOS and 14 ppt for PFOA)
    • Other states active in push for guidelines include California, Michigan, Minnesota, Connecticut
  • Some experts say regulatory process could take as long as 10 years before a federal rule can be finalized

Where PFAS Come From

  • Packaged or processed foods manufactured with equipment containing PFAS
  • Landfill discharge
  • Water treatment plants
  • Firefighter training facilities
  • Household products containing Teflon, foams, etc.
  • Electronics manufacturing
  • And more

Most Common PFAS Compounds

  • PFHxS, PFNA, PFOS, PFOA

Potential Effects on Humans with PFAS Exposure

  • Affect growth, learning and behavior of infants and older children
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones
  • Increase cholesterol levels
  • Affect the immune system
  • Increase the risk of cancer

Available Treatment Options

  • Most effective technologies for treating PFOS and PFOA are granulated activated carbon (GAC), ion exchange (IX), reverse osmosis (RO)
  • Chemical compounds include short-chain PFAS and long-chain PFAS
  • In neutral pH, compounds are ionized, so ion exchange (IX) is most ideal option for treatment

Related Reading

What You Need to Know About PFAS

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