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- Q: What are PFAS?
- Q: What are the names of common PFAS chemicals?
- Q: How long do PFAS stay in the body?
- Q: Can you remove PFAS from the body?
- Q: What are the exposure limits for PFAS in drinking water?
- Q: What are the health effects of PFAS?
- Q: How do you remove PFAS from water?
- Q: How can I find out if there are PFAS near me?
- Q: Where can I find other information about PFAS?
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What are PFAS?
Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is the name used for a family of man-made chemicals engineered to resist grease, oil, water, stains, and heat. There are thousands of different chemicals in the PFAS chemical family.
PFAS are known as the “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily. These chemicals are made by replacing hydrogen in molecules so that carbon bonds with fluorine instead. The combination of carbon and fluorine molecules in PFAS takes more energy to break down than almost any other chemical structure.
What are the names of common PFAS chemicals?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) lists these common types of PFAs and their abbreviations:
Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid
PFOA (or C8)
PFOSA (or FOSA)
MeFOSAA (aka Me-PFOSA-AcOH)
2-(N-Methyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid
Et-FOSAA (aka Et-PFOSA-AcOH)
2-(N-Ethyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid
Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid
How long do PFAS stay in the body?
The body excretes PFAS in normal bodily functions, whether through urine, breastfeeding, menstruation, and sweat. Persons with kidney disease may not excrete as much PFAS as healthier people. It takes about four years for the amount of PFAs in your body to dcrease by half, if there is no further exposure.
Can you remove PFAS from the body?
There is no definitive procedure to remove PFAS from the body. Because of this, it is always best to minimize your exposure to these chemicals.
What are the exposure limits for PFAS in drinking water?
In 2016, the EPA issued health advisories for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). However, on June 15, 2022, the EPA dramatically lowered the limits, as follows:
- Interim updated health advisory for PFOA = 0.004 ppt
- Interim updated health advisory for PFOS = 0.02 ppt
The reduction in the PFOA and PFOS limits are based on human studies which have found “associations between PFOA and/or PFOS exposure and effects on the immune system, the cardiovascular system, human development (e.g., decreased birth weight), and cancer. The most sensitive non-cancer effect and the basis for the interim updated health advisories for PFOA and PFOS is suppression of vaccine response (decreased serum antibody concentrations) in children.”
Many states have also issued exposure limits for PFAS. For instance, Massachusetts has exposure limits for a group of six individual PFAS chemicals which include PFOA and PFOS, referred to as PFAS6. Massachusetts has set the limit for PFAS6 in drinking water supplies at 20 ppt, and like EPA, is continuing to evaluate these levels as it evaluates additional information.”
What are the health effects of PFAS?
PFAS lower the body’s immune response. Exposure to PFAS has been associated with the following health issues:
- Cancer, including kidney and testicular cancers
- Endocrine disruption
- Fertility problems
- Decreased birth weights
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women\
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Decreased vaccine response in children
How do you remove PFAS from water?
As of today, there is no practical way to remove PFAS once it has entered our environment, although many efforts are underway to solve that problem. However, the EPA lists three ways to filter PFAS from water before human consumption:
- Activated carbon treatment
- Ion exchange treatment
- High pressure membranes, such as a reverse osmosis system
Normal household water filtrations products (such as a Brita) do not remove PFAS from water. In addition, boiling water not only does not remove PFAS, it concentrates the chemicals and makes the water more hazardous, not less.
How can I find out if there are PFAS near me?
Every state will have a page on their website about PFAS.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has an online map showing the location of “results from multiple sampling projects where water, soil, sediment, and fish have been sampled for PFAS in Colorado”.
In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has an entire section on mass.gov about the chemicals, the state response, and what you can do.
The EPA recommends that if you are concerned about PFAS in your water system, you contact your local water system. If your water is from a private well, you will have to have your water tested for PFAS. Again, you can contact the state water or environmental regulation agency for information on companies that test for PFAS.
Where can I find other information about PFAS?
EPA: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Class Action Complaint filed by Thornton Law Firm LLP on behalf of residents of Westminster, Massachusetts alleging PFAS water contamination
Colorado Department of Health & Environment: PFAS and Your Health
Denver Post: Search Colorado water providers’ PFAS levels
Denver Post: “No safe level”: A lot of Colorado drinking water could contain potentially hazardous levels of “forever chemicals” under new EPA standard
Denver Post: What are PFAS, or “forever chemicals?”
Denver Post Editorial: New PFAS limits require immediate action by water users and providers