Using a new method of chemical forensics (think: CSI) to quantify and identify toxic PFAS* chemical compounds, researchers have discovered large quantities of previously undetectable PFAS compounds** in six watersheds on Cape Cod. Exposures to some PFAS chemicals are linked to a range of health risks including cancer, immune suppression, diabetes, and low infant birth weight, among many other serious health conditions. The new testing method revealed large quantities of previously undetected PFAS from fire-retardant foams and other unknown sources. Total concentrations of PFAS present in these watersheds were above state maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for drinking water safety.
*PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are present in products ranging from fire retardant foams to non-stick pans. Nicknamed “forever chemicals” due to their long lifespan, PFAS have been building up in the environment since they were first used in the 1950s. Despite the associated health risks, there are no legally enforceable federal limits for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency’s provisional health guidelines for public water supplies only cover PFOS and PFOA, two common types of PFAS. Massachusetts, along with a few other states, has gone further by including six PFAS in their new MCLs in drinking water. But there are thousands of PFAS chemical structures known to exist, several hundred of which have already been detected in the environment.
**The standard testing methods used by the EPA and state regulatory agencies only test for 25 or fewer known compounds. The problem is the overwhelming majority of PFAS compounds are proprietary and regulatory agencies can’t find what they don’t know exist. The new method developed by this research team can overcome that barrier and account for all PFAS in a sample. CSI: PFAS
Journal Reference: Bridger J. Ruyle, Heidi M. Pickard, Denis R. LeBlanc, Andrea K. Tokranov, Colin P. Thackray, Xindi C. Hu, Chad D. Vecitis, Elsie M. Sunderland. Isolating the AFFF Signature in Coastal Watersheds Using Oxidizable PFAS Precursors and Unexplained Organofluorine. Environmental Science & Technology, 2021; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c07296 Summary