In March 2023, the EPA announced it would begin regulating PFAS chemical levels in drinking water supplies across the country. Learn more about PFAS and the potential health effects of PFAS water contamination. If you're concerned about PFAS levels in your community, learn more about the active suit against PFAS manufacturers
Q: What are PFAS?
A: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a wide range of products, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, and waterproof clothing for the last several decades. They are resistant to heat, water, and oil and therefore do not break down easily in the environment or in the human body. As a result, they have become known as “forever chemicals.”
Q: What are the health effects of exposure to PFAS?
A: Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a range of health effects, including
- developmental and reproductive issues
- preeclampsia during pregnancy
- liver damage
- increased risk of certain cancers.
Numerous studies exist regarding the various PFAS chemicals, many of which prompted the recent EPA regulations
Q: Are PFAS carcinogenic?
A: Although the International Agency on Research for Cancer has classified one PFAS chemical, PFOA, as possibly carcinogenic to humans, it has not yet evaluated whether other PFAS may also be carcinogenic. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not yet evaluated whether PFAS cause
Q: How are people exposed to PFAS?
A: People can be exposed to PFAS through a variety of sources, including contaminated water, food, and consumer products. Firefighters and military personnel are also at an increased risk of exposure due to their use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam, known as AFFF, which is used specifically to put out petroleum liquid fires.
Q: How does PFAS get into the drinking water?
A: PFAS can enter the water supply through several routes, including industrial discharge, landfills, fire training/fire response sites (particularly airports and military bases), and wastewater treatment plants. PFAS can get into the drinking water when products containing various PFAS are used or spilled onto the ground or into water sources such as lakes or rivers. Some PFAS are volatile and can be carried long distances in the air, also ending up in rivers and lakes used for drinking water. Once in groundwater, PFAS are easily transported long distances; contamination can be found miles away from the initial source.
Q: Are PFAS still being produced in the United States?
A: PFAS have been used extensively because of their unique ability to repel oil, grease, and water. In 2006, the EPA launched the PFOA Stewardship Program because of concerns about the impact of one of the more toxic PFAS on the environment and human health. The EPA asked 8 major companies in the PFAS industry to commit to reducing their emissions and production by 95% by no later than 2010 and to work toward eliminating PFOA entirely by 2015. Thus, while certain PFAS emissions/products have been drastically reduced in the last decade, production of PFAS in the U.S. has not ceased and communities are still seeing serious levels of contamination from pre- and post-2015 chemical use.
Q: How can individuals reduce their exposure to PFAS?
A: You can reduce your exposure to PFAS by avoiding products that contain these chemicals, such as non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. It’s also important to become familiar with the Consumer Confidence Reports
, water quality reports that your public water system publishes each year. If you live in a community with known elevated PFAS levels.
Q: Where has PFAS contamination been found in the United States?
A: Many water authorities have yet to test for PFAS. However, according to 2021 data from the Environmental Working Group, PFAS has been detected in 2,411 drinking water systems and 328 military installations across 40+ states, including Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, California, Texas, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont.