EPA Health Warning: PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued nationwide health advisories for four toxic PFAS chemicals* found in drinking water.  The EPA has now raised the limits for what is considered safe for two of the PFAS chemicals — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)**.  Thousands of drinking water utilities across the country likely have PFOA or PFOS in their system above the EPA’s new advisories.

*The family of PFAS chemicals are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals and toxic to humans; they are ubiquitous in the U.S. and can be found in food packaging and plastic water bottles (where it can leach into the food you eat and drink), cookware/bake ware/cooking utensils, stain-resistant and waterproof furniture, clothing, carpet and more. PFAS chemicals do not break down in the environment or human/animal bodies, thus the nickname “forever” chemicals. Virtually all Americans have some level of PFAS in their bodies.  Exactly how much PFOA or PFOS it takes to harm someone is unknown. PFAS chemicals do not cause sudden illnesses like a poison would. Instead, they accumulate in the body over time, where scientists say they can begin to impact systems. PFAS chemicals have been shown in scientific studies to adversely affect the immune system and hormonal system and have been linked in scientific and medical studies to high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension, low birth-weight babies and immune system effects. Researchers estimate that exposure to some PFAS may have played a role in about 6.5 million deaths in the U.S. from 1999-2018, primarily those caused by cancer and heart disease.

**The chemical industry argues that it has phased out the varieties of PFAS known to be hazardous such as PFOS and PFOA, and replaced them with safer alternatives. But environmental groups and some scientists say the common characteristics of PFAS make them all dangerous.

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What can I do?

Scientists say there is little anyone can do to assess individual risk. In highly contaminated communities, people have had blood tests to determine how much PFAS they’ve been exposed to, which can then be compared with national averages. But blood tests are expensive, can be difficult to obtain, and will not definitively tell someone what danger they face.

While the EPA is planning on sampling thousands of water authorities across the country for PFAS in the years ahead, there is no official, central database where the public can check every system.

Residents can inquire with their water supplier or state environmental agency about whether testing has been performed on their system. The Environmental Working Group, a national environmental nonprofit that advocates for strict limits on PFAS, maintains a map of all known locations where PFAS have been found in drinking water.

Individuals can lower their exposure to PFAS by purchasing commercial products that are PFAS-free.

And finally, individuals can install filters in their homes, which can protect an entire house or can go under the kitchen sink to remove most PFAS from water used to cook and drink. Scientists say PFAS do not readily pass through the skin, making showering and bathing safe.

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You can learn more about PFAS chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS, and where they are hiding by reading our blog featuring scientific studies on PFAS. Go to the bottom of the blog and enter “PFAS” into the search box. (You can also contact us and we will do a search of our database of  scientific studies on PFAS and send you the links.)

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UPDATE:

EPA Proposes New Superfund Designation of ‘Forever Chemicals’

If finalized, it could make PFAS polluters pay for cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new proposal in late August 2022 to designate two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.

This step follows an announcement from the EPA in June 2022, lowering the allowable limits of four types of PFAS in drinking water. But that was an advisory, not an enforcement. If finalized, this new “Superfund” designation would institute reporting requirements for businesses that pollute the environment with PFAS and give the EPA tools to collect cleanup costs from those businesses as well.

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