PFAS are chemicals that bioaccumulate and have shown links to harmful health effects. Our friends at the Water Quality Association have been instrumental in bringing attention to PFAS in drinking water.
What does PFAS stand for?
PFAS stands for Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. PFAS are a large family of man-made chemicals that contain carbon, fluorine, and other elements. These chemicals have been in use since the 1940s and are found in a variety of products including firefighting foams, household products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, and stain and water repellents. PFAS may also be released into the air, soil, and water, including sources of drinking water. These chemicals are persistent and resist degradation, meaning they accumulate in the environment and in your body over time.
The two most widely studied PFAS chemicals are:
- Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)
These chemicals were voluntarily phased out of production in the United States. However, as many as 3,000 other PFAS chemicals still are used in a wide variety of applications.
A common PFAS is GenX chemicals, the trade name for a technology that is used to make high-performance fluoropolymers (e.g., some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid which is a PFOA. GenX chemicals have been found in surface water, groundwater, finished drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions in some areas.
How do I know if I have been exposed to PFAS?
Studies have indicated that exposure to PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects. The most consistent finding from human epidemiology studies showed an increase in cholesterol levels in those exposed. Scientists are still conducting research on the impacts that PFAS chemicals have on health and how to better understand them.
People can be exposed to PFAS in a variety of ways and there are different levels of exposure. We would like to focus on is exposure to PFAS through drinking water.
It is estimated the drinking water supply for at least 16 million people is contaminated with PFAS.
You can be exposed to PFAS if your community’s water supply has been contaminated with PFAS. Contamination is usually a localized event and associated with specific facilities. For example:
- If there is an industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture products
- If there is an oil refinery in the area
- If there is an airfield or other locations that have used PFAS for firefighting
PFOA, PFOS, and GenX have been found in several drinking water systems due to localized contamination. If you’d like more information on exposure to PFAS through drinking water, click this link.
If you suspect that your water might be contaminated by PFAS and would like to have your water tested, contact your state for a list of laboratories that are certified to test for PFAS using EPA Method 537.
Want to know more about PFAS? Here some additional resources you should check out: