Know Your Water Contaminants: PFAS

Monday, September 28th, 2020


PFAS & Water Contamination

For many families, Saturday night means gathering around the TV with the latest Netflix movie and a big bowl of delicious microwave popcorn! It’s one of the simplest snacks and great for movie night! But did you notice that when you pulled that steaming bag out of the microwave and you were flooded with steam, the paper bag wasn’t even a little soggy from all that butter and moisture?

That’s because the inside of the bag that your microwave popcorn comes in is lined to stop the oil from leaking through the paper. But what is it lined with? There are a variety of different processes, but some are a little more concerning than others. In the past, some companies looked to a man-made chemical compound to provide this leak protection. This chemical is found in many items that we encounter every day; nonstick pans, waterproof and stainproof fabrics, food wrappers, and pizza boxes to name a few. These modern-day conveniences have their benefits, but also come with the downside of an emerging class of contaminants known as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

What are PFAS?

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are man-made chemicals which were commercially developed around WWII. During that time, the two chemical compounds in the PFAS family that were most commonly used and produced are PFOA and PFOS.

Today, PFAS may be found in everyday items like food packaging, and household products such as cookware, carpets, cosmetics, paint, lubricants, and clothing.

PFAS compounds have been used to make consumer goods resistant to water, grease, or stains in products like Scotchgard and Teflon, and are found in a staggering array of products and commercial applications today. Their unique chemistry gives them the unusual ability to repel liquids and create non-stick surfaces.

Sounds like a great thing to have to make life more convenient, right? Unfortunately, the convenience may not be worth the risk. Research has shown that exposure to these chemicals allows them to enter our bloodstream. They essentially never breakdown and stay with us for decades.

PFAS & Water ContaminationHow do PFA’s get in the water supply?

Much like how salt dissolves when poured into a glass of water, PFAS are also water soluble making it a commonly found contaminant in today’s water supply, including the water you drink and cook with.

Since PFAS are in so many consumer products, there are many sources for contamination:

  • Landfills where products that contain PFAS such as carpets, food wrappers, and textiles are discarded
  • At home, clothes treated with PFAS will leech the chemical into the sewer and groundwater with every laundry cycle
  • The industrial facilities that use these chemicals discharge wastewater into nearby streams or through the wastewater they send to treatment plants
  • Firefighting foams used on residential applications and military bases are left to seep into the ground after use

How many areas are affected?

The extent of the contamination continues to grow at an alarming rate. As of July 2020, 2230 locations in 49 states are known to have PFAS Contamination in the United States. This updated map from the Environmental Working Group shows the pollution in public and private waterways.

 Map Showing PFAS Contamination

Figure 1 – Purple - Military Sites, Blue - Drinking Water, Orange - Other Known Sites

Even though some areas seem to be untouched, nearly all Americans are affected by exposure to PFAS chemicals in food, water, and consumer products. The dangers of PFAS pose a serious risk to wildlife, people, and communities. In the Great Lakes region, for example, elevated levels of PFAS have been found in insect-eating birds such as tree swallows and fish-eating birds like great blue herons, as well as bald eagles, fish, and deer – resulting in fish consumption advisories and a “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer in certain counties in Michigan.

The two most common compounds of PFOA and PFOS are no longer made in the USA, but stocks of firefighting foams can be stored for decades and are likely to be used in firefighting training long into the future. And although contamination levels have been decreasing in the blood of the general population since they were phased out, the compounds remain the human body for years after exposure and in the environment for longer so it will be a very long time before they disappear completely.

What are the long-term effects on health?

The chemical bonds are so hard to break that these compounds have environmental lifetimes of 100’s of years or more, which is why they are also known as “forever chemicals.” These chemicals accumulate in the cells and are consumed through the food you eat and water you drink. Since they repeal water or oil, once they are consumed, they stay in the cells and continue to build up in our blood and organs.

There is evidence that they can have adverse effects on human health . That includes the possibility of affecting fertility, immune systems, hormones, and infant health. The effects of exposure are still being studied but the biggest concern is for women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant. Evidence also suggests that PFAS could contribute to cancer, kidney disease, and increased cholesterol levels.

The health effects on animals are similar to the effects on people. If you have high levels of PFAS in your water, your pets and livestock should not drink it either.

How can I protect myself?

Although the EPA has set advisory levels for PFAS to 70 ppt (parts per trillion), only a few state government agencies have stepped up to enact limits for PFAS in drinking water or banning its use in food packaging and firefighting foam. There are currently no enforceable federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, so protecting yourself ultimately falls into your own hands.

Fortunately, as knowledge of the overall impact of these emerging contaminants continues to expand, so do the potential solutions being developed to address them. If you are concerned about the possibility of these contaminants in your water supply, contact your local water supply and ask for more information about PFAS in your community.

The removal of this class of contaminants is resistant to many, if not most, water treatment processes. There are options available, but you need to make sure they have been tested and certified to remove the contaminant. The ONE filter is a certified solution to remove PFOA and PFAS chemicals from your water supply. It can be installed in conjunction with your existing water treatment equipment or on it’s own to provide filtered water you can trust to every part of your home. Not only will it keep your family safe from these emerging contaminants, it is also capable of lead and cyst reduction. Contact your local Evolve Dealer today to learn more about how the Contaminant Reduction Technology inside the ONE filter can help keep these harmful contaminants out of your family’s water!

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