Over the past few years, studies have shown that the use of everyday products such as nonstick cookware, cleaning products and water-resistant clothing contain harmful chemicals known as PFAS. These chemicals have also been found in drinking water sources and grease-resistant paper used to package food. In other words, the resources we use to make our lives easier can also cause harm to our health.
The development of PFAS chemicals has increased since their accidental invention in the early 1900s. Some studies show that certain PFAS can have harmful health effects including, but not limited to, the immune system, hormones and cholesterol levels. Let’s take a closer look at PFAS and the issues they can cause.
What Are PFAS?
PFAS is an abbreviation meaning perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These substances are a group of human-made chemicals that have been manufactured in various industries dating back to the 1940s. These chemicals have been found in both the environment and the human body and contain traces of carbon and fluorine. For this reason, PFAS don’t break down easily.
PFAS are most commonly found in manufacturing and processing facilities, military sites and airports. Currently, there are 703 American military sites with contaminated or suspected discharges of PFAS. In response, the U.S. Congress has made several provisions to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit the use of PFAS in training.
There’s been a growing interest in PFAS and their effects over the last 10 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made a commitment to investigate the presence of PFAS and their effects in more than 30 communities across the U.S. While action has been taken to eliminate the manufacturing of certain PFAS chemicals in the U.S., they can still be found in products imported from other countries.
PFAS in Drinking Water
One of the most common sources of exposure to PFAS chemicals is drinking water. PFAS have polluted the tap water access of millions of people across several states. These chemicals mainly get into drinking water through fire-fighting foams and fertilizer derived from sewage that contaminates nearby water supplies.
PFAS in drinking water has been found to cause various health problems. Exposure to high levels of PFAS can weaken the immune system and reduce disease resistance, therefore potentially reducing responses to vaccinations. However, more research is needed to understand its specific impact on COVID-19 and the vaccine’s effectiveness.
To protect Americans from exposure to PFAS in drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. While there’s no federal limit or consequences if levels exceed that amount, these guidelines seek to limit the dangers of these harmful chemicals and gain better control of their impacts.
As of March 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has found that one-third of 114 sites surveyed in the state contain PFAS. Though none of the sites exceed EPA health advisory levels, it’s important to note that these chemicals don’t break down easily, so they remain in the water for a long period of time. The Pennsylvania DEP has put plans in place to eliminate contamination in water and the environment to ensure it’s safe to drink.
Health Problems Linked to PFAS in Water
While more extensive analysis is needed to draw accurate conclusions on the effects of PFAS chemicals, many studies have found that high levels of PFAS can lead to various health issues in humans. This relationship will become clearer over time, but it’s still important to note the various medical issues that can potentially arise due to PFAS as documented today.
Increased Cholesterol Levels
Through a series of testing, it’s been shown that there may be a link between PFAS exposure and dyslipidemia, meaning there were high levels of cholesterol found in people exposed to PFAS. Fortunately, dyslipidemia is usually a treatable condition.
Increased Risk of Kidney and Testicular Cancer
A high presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical found in PFAS, is found to have a connection to kidney and testicular cancer. However, it’s a more prevalent risk for those who have worked in a PFAS-producing plant or live in a community with PFAS water contamination.
Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure
For young adults who have been exposed to high levels of PFAS chemicals, data has shown that a connection to increased levels of blood pressure. This condition can lead to other serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and vision loss.
There’s also been an indication of high blood pressure during pregnancy due to PFAS exposure. While it’s common for pregnant women to experience an increase in blood pressure regardless of exposure to PFAS, it appears that increased exposure to PFAS could make preeclampsia — a rare but often fatal condition that stems from hypertension — more likely.
Increased Risk of Thyroid Disease
There have been questions regarding whether PFAS chemicals lead to problems with the thyroid gland. Some studies have shown that PFAS can disturb the thyroid, which can affect pregnancy and child development. While results are inconsistent, it’s largely agreed upon that PFAS chemicals are considered thyroid disruptors that can lead to potential health problems.
Increased Risk of Pregnancy and Fertility Issues
Exposure to PFAS has been found to lead to various pregnancy issues. It can lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant and can interfere with hormones. If a woman is exposed to PFAS during pregnancy, it can result in higher blood pressure. As stated previously, increased blood pressure is normal during pregnancy, therefore making it difficult to draw a definitive link between PFAS and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Specifically, pregnant women can be at risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) if they’re exposed to PFAS chemicals, causing various issues for their unborn child. Infants may experience developmental effects, lower birth weights — and in severe cases, perinatal death. Research has suggested that the placenta may be a target of PFAS, which can be significantly attributed to such pregnancy and birth issues.
Though the above potential health effects of PFAS require more analysis, it’s crucial to recognize their possible risk factors and take action against them. If ingested, PFAS chemicals can accumulate and stay in your system. Because PFAS can create complications for pregnant women, it’s important for them to consider bringing up the subject to their doctors. Fortunately, there are ways to increase the cleanliness of your water source, with filtration being the top solution.
Environmental Risks of Contaminated Water
In response to the dangers of PFAS chemicals, the EPA continues to monitor and regulate the use of PFAS. There are a handful of states that ban the use of PFAS in food products, including Minnesota and Connecticut, and Maine is currently the only place in the world that has fully banned all products containing PFAS. Despite these measures, these chemicals still remain in the environment because they break down slowly. As a result, PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals.”
When these chemicals get into water supplies, it impacts those directly drinking the water and the surrounding agriculture. PFAS chemicals permeate throughout the soil and contaminate the produce. In recent tests conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 16 out of 20 produce samples contained PFAS. This presence can highly impact farmers, causing them to lose profit because they may be unable to sell the very products they produce.
To address the harm PFAS chemicals have caused the environment in Pennsylvania, the Bureau of Waste Management (BWM) is attempting to manage the waste by implementing various programs to disrupt the pollution cycle. These actions will help reduce future environmental harm through the assessment of previous and current damage. Measures are also being taken to clean up previous effects of PFAS. The state’s new standards ensure that soil and groundwater are free of contaminants to avoid migration into other water sources.
The main goal is to reduce your exposure as much as possible by educating yourself on PFAS impacts and ways to avoid exposure and implementing the necessary steps to ensure your water is clean and free of chemicals.
How to Treat Your Water for PFAS
It’s no secret that clean water is essential to our survival and growth. As a result, it’s crucial to ensure the water you use in your house doesn’t contain contaminants like PFAS. The EPA and other agencies recognize the importance of eliminating these chemicals from our water systems and implementing ways to treat the remaining toxins.
It’s most beneficial to use water softeners or filters to ensure you’re drinking the cleanest water possible. One way to ensure that your water is clean and safe is to utilize water treatment systems in your home. There are various filters you can use depending on the severity of contamination, however most do not remove PFAS. EcoWater’s 385 Reverse Osmosis drinking water system is one of the few that is certified to remove PFAS from your drinking water.
To help determine whether your water is contaminated, Long’s EcoWater allows you to schedule a free in-home water consultation, which includes a free water test. Through this consultation, you can determine the toxicity levels of your water and treat it as soon as possible. From there, you receive assistance in determining which filtration system is best for your home.
This process improves the taste of your water and your health — studies have proven that water filtration systems have decreased PFAS levels in people exposed to PFAS in drinking water.
What’s Being Done to Address PFAS in Drinking Water?
It’s apparent that substantial changes need to be made to protect ourselves from harmful PFAS chemicals. What’s the government currently doing to address PFAS in our community water sources? Aside from individual states like Maine taking action into their own hands, the federal government has taken some measures to tackle PFAS in America’s drinking water.
The Biden administration seeks to address the EPA’s regulation of PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The SDWA authorizes the EPA to determine if there are contaminants in water and whether it needs regulation. The EPA is required to publish a Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) every five years to specifically explain what’s in need of regulation.
In addition, the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) was created to detect contaminants in drinking water. The UCMR was created to monitor for contaminants in drinking water every five years for public water systems serving 10,000 people or less. The EPA evaluates contaminants using a multi-step process to analyze the water samples and determine whether they contain chemicals. The CCL is considered in this process, too.
In 2019, the EPA created a National PFAS Action Plan to protect public health and mitigate the risks of PFAS chemicals. The EPA will enforce the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) process to help improve water quality in the future. On July 21, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to address PFAS in drinking water. The PFAS Action Act outlines a list of regulatory actions to be taken to ensure public health safety.
With these plans and measures in mind, it’s vital to understand the potential water contamination in your area and put the necessary processes in place to ensure you have access to clean, safe drinking water for you and your family.
Ensure Safe, Clean Water With Long’s EcoWater Systems
Long’s EcoWater recognizes the importance of having access to pure, clean water. At Long’s Ecowater, we provide you with the services and support you need to ensure that your water is free of contaminants and safe for your family. Whether you need a simpler system to purify your water or a more complex system to filter out chemicals like chlorine or lead, we have you covered. With more than 70 years of experience, you can trust us to help filter your water.