What are PFAS? If you don't know, you're not alone. Scientists say these contaminants could be in the water you're drinking and they're likely already in your blood.
PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They're man-made chemicals and they've been used in a wide variety of products since the 1940's.
They're now so widespread, the EPA says you can find them in food, commercial household products, your workplace, your home, your drinking water, and just out in the environment.
In fact, new data shows that rainwater in some parts of the US contains high enough levels of PFAS to possibly affect human health.
What's the problem with PFAS in drinking water? They are unregulated and dangerous to your health.
PFAS are Linked to an Increased Risk of Cancer
PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly in 3M’s Scotchgard and firefighting foam, have been phased out in the U.S. under pressure from the EPA, although they remain widespread in drinking water. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and other health problems.
They are known as "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in the environment. They continue to build-up in our blood and in our organs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s measurements of PFAS in our bodies, the average American’s combined exposure is equal to drinking water with 14 parts per trillion, or ppt, of PFOA and 36 ppt of PFOS, daily for the past few years. Those exposure levels are 14 times higher and 36 times higher, respectively, than EWG’s recommended standard for all PFAS.
How Much is Too Much?
As stated previously, PFAS are currently not regulated and much has been debated on how much is safe for human consumption.
In 2016, the EPA issued non-binding drinking water advisory levels for PFOA, PFOS or their combined level, of 70 ppt. The EPA has identified more than 600 chemically similar PFAS compounds in active commercial use but has set no legal limits or health advisories for those chemicals in water, air or consumer products.
However, independent scientific studies have recommended a safe level for PFAS in drinking water of 1 ppt, which is endorsed by EWG.
They Are "Likely in Every Major Water Supplies"
Of tap water samples from 44 places in 31 states and the District of Columbia, only one location had no detectable PFAS, and only two other locations had PFAS below the level that independent studies show pose risks to human health. Some of the highest PFAS levels detected were in samples from major metropolitan areas, including Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans and the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York City.
In 34 places where EWG’s tests found PFAS, contamination has not been publicly reported by the Environmental Protection Agency or state environmental agencies. Because PFAS are not regulated, utilities that have chosen to test independently are not required to make their results public or report them to state drinking water agencies or the EPA.
Perhaps the most startling test result was from an elementary school in Brunswick County, NC that returned a sample of 185.9 ppt. For perspective, the EWG considers a sample above 1 ppt to be unsafe for human consumption.
Based on these tests and new academic research that found PFAS widespread in rainwater, EWG scientists now believe PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S., almost certainly in all that use surface water.
How Do Individuals and Businesses Treat for PFAS?
Current options for drinking water treatment technologies to remove PFAS include granular activated carbon, ion exchange and reverse osmosis. Of these, granular activated carbon, or GAC, is the most common, with many water treatment facilities already using it to remove other contaminants.
The design of the GAC filter and how often the carbon is exchanged can affect performance significantly. Some of the systems tested already use GAC filters, including those serving Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Quad Cities, in Iowa. Reverse osmosis is the most effective technology, but it is also the most expensive. Ion exchange is a newer technology for PFAS removal, with a limited number of current installations.
Studies have demonstrated that reverse osmosis treatment is effective for the removal of all types of long and shorter-chain PFAS we tested for, including PFOS, PFOA, PFBS, PFHxS, PFHxA, and PFNA. This technology can also be combined with GAC to achieve higher removal rates or maintain the efficacy of the sensitive reverse osmosis membranes.
Most importantly, don't wait for regulations. Contact a professional water treatment company, like Robert B. Hill Co, and get started protecting yourself from these unregulated harmful contaminants.