What is a PFAS?
The EPA says that PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s.
PFAS are water-repellent as well as stain- and heat-resistant. PFAS have been used in a wide variety of industrial and commercial products.
They are commonly associated with manufacturing facilities, fire training sites, wastewater treatment plants, and landfills.
Many PFAS compounds dissolve easily in water but do not break down in the environment, and can travel miles to wells, wetlands, and streams. There is evidence that exposure to some PFAS can be harmful to human health.
What are PFAS used in?
The NGWA says that due to their ability to repeal water and resistance to heat and stains PFAS are used in many things. They are used in water repellant clothing, food packaging, and stick free cookware products. They are also used in polishes, waxes, paints, and many cleaning products. Since PFAS are used in so many of our everyday products it is estimated that 95% of the US population has a measurable amount of PFAS in their blood.
Top Ten Facts of PFAS
The National Groundwater Association brings us these top ten facts about PFAS.
1. PFAS refer to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a class of manmade chemicals used in firefighting, stain resistance, water repellants, and other industrial applications since the 1940s.
2. PFAS contamination can be found in landfills receiving waste since the 1950s and in the land and groundwater surrounding facilities using aqueous film forming foams (AFFF), like airports, defense facilities, or fire-fighting training center, or other legacy industrial sites.
3. Studies have estimated 95 percent of the U.S. population has been exposed to PFAS and have measurable concentrations in their blood.
4. Human exposure can occur through ingestion, direct contact, inhalation, and occupational contact.
5. PFOA and PFOS are linked to a number of health effects, including: liver damage; kidney damage; increased cholesterol levels; pregnancy-induced hypertension; certain types of cancer; increased risk of thyroid disease; increased risk of decreased fertility; increased risk of asthma diagnosis; decreased response to vaccines.
6. No maximum contaminant level (MCL) has been established at the federal level. However, U.S. EPA issued a lifetime “health advisory level” (HAL) of a combined 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in 2016, equal to approximately one grain of salt in 1000 gallons of water.
7. Based on U.S. EPA sampling of water supply systems, up to 15 million people live in areas where PFAS concentrations are above the HAL.
8. Several states have adopted their own exposure limits for PFAS, with more expecting to do so in the near future.
9. NGWA encourages routine water testing for a range of contaminants in wells and well systems. If PFAS is detected in your area, testing for those contaminants should also be considered.
10. EPA announced the development of a four-part action plan to combat PFAS in May 2018 and released the plan in February 2019. The implementation of the plan is ongoing.
PFAS and Groundwater
Since PFAS do not easily breakdown they seep into our groundwater.
If you have a private well testing for PFAS is one of many reasons to sample your water. It is a relatively simple process, but you must be sure to collect clean water samples. Let the tap run for about 10 minutes before you collect the water and always use laboratory-provided, PFAS-free containers. If you can, compare tap water with water sampled directly from your well borehole.
How to Remove PFAS from well water?
If you do happen to find PFAS in your well water there are relatively easy ways to treat your water.
NGWA says that you can choose a solution for treating all the water entering your home (point-of-entry treatment, POET), or simply treating drinking and cooking water (point-of use treatment, POUT).
Water treatment technologies have been around for years, and include activated carbon, anion exchange resins, and reverse osmosis membranes. The important thing is to always use a certified water treatment professional.
If you have more questions on PFAS and your drinking water check out this homeowner checklist of what to look for and do.