PFAS in Drinking Water: What You Need to Know 

During our daily hustle, it’s easy to take the simple things for granted—like the quality of our drinking water. Imagine discovering that lurking within this vital resource are substances potentially threatening our health and well-being. Enter PFAS, a topic increasingly capturing attention in the news as well as environmental and health spheres, and for good reason. 

What Are PFAS? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are man-made chemicals notorious for their persistence in the environment and our bodies. These substances have been widely used since the 1940s in industries and consumer products like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, and firefighting foams. Their widespread use has led to their pervasive presence in our environment, including the water we drink. 

Why Are PFAS a Concern? 

The durability that makes PFAS valuable to industries is precisely what makes them a menace to our environment and health. These substances break down very slowly, leading to their accumulation over time in water, soil, and living organisms. 

Studies have linked PFAS exposure to a range of health risks, including cancer, hormone disruption, and immune system effects. In addition, PFAS exposure during critical life stages such as pregnancy or early childhood can also result in adverse health impacts. 

Understanding PFAS & Your Health 

PFAS are closer to us than we might like to admit. They find their way into our bodies mainly through contaminated drinking water. But it’s not just water that exposes us; these chemicals also find their way to us through food, everyday products, and even certain workplaces. 

The conversation around PFAS is heating up for good reason. Recent research, including a 2020 peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group, rings alarm bells, estimating over 200 million Americans may have PFAS in their drinking water. That’s a wake-up call for all of us. 

The Health Risks of PFAS 

Scientists have been doing their homework. Here’s what they’ve learned about how PFAS can affect our health: 

  • Reproductive Health: Challenges like decreased fertility or higher blood pressure during pregnancy. 
  • Child Development: Issues such as low birth weight, changes in puberty timing, and even alterations in behavior or bone development. 
  • Cancer Connection: An unsettling link to certain cancers, including those of the prostate, kidneys, and testicles. 
  • Immune System: A knock on our body’s defense system, including a less robust response to vaccines. 
  • Hormonal Havoc: PFAS can mess with our natural hormones. 
  • Cholesterol and Obesity: Worries over increased cholesterol levels and a greater risk of obesity. 

Who’s at Greater Risk? 

  • Workers and Residents Near PFAS Sources: If you work in the industry or live close to production facilities, you might be exposed to more PFAS than you bargained for. 
  • Pregnant and Nursing Women: More water means potentially more PFAS, putting both mother and child at a higher risk. 

Children are particularly vulnerable due to rapid growth and certain behaviors (like that phase where everything goes in the mouth). From the carpet they play on to the air they breathe, children are at a higher risk of encountering PFAS. Even before birth, exposure can begin in utero, continuing with breast milk from mothers exposed to PFAS or formula prepared with contaminated water. 

Beyond the Obvious: The Extended Risks 

The more we learn about PFAS, the longer the list of concerns grows: 

  • Girls experiencing delayed puberty might face increased risks for conditions like breast cancer and renal or thyroid disease later in life. 
  • Teens could see decreased bone density, paving the way for osteoporosis. 
  • Women might see an uptick in Type 2 Diabetes risk. 

It’s clear, the conversation around PFAS and our health is urgent and ongoing. Knowing is the first step to protecting ourselves and our loved ones. 

PFAS in Drinking Water 

Sources of PFAS Contamination 

PFAS can enter water supplies through several pathways, including industrial discharge, using PFAS-containing products, and runoff from firefighting foam. Recent case studies have highlighted areas where drinking water sources were significantly contaminated with PFAS. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), current research shows exposure to humans: 

  1. Working in occupations such as firefighting or chemicals manufacturing and processing. 
  2. Drinking water contaminated with PFAS. 
  3. Eating certain foods that may contain PFAS, including fish. 
  4. Swallowing contaminated soil or dust. 
  5. Breathing air containing PFAS. 
  6. Using products made with PFAS or that are packaged in materials containing PFAS. 

It’s important to note that studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through your skin. Therefore, showering, bathing, and washing dishes in water containing PFAS are unlikely to increase risk significantly. 

Keep the Home Safe: Test Your Water for PFAS 

With PFAS lurking, making sure your home’s water is safe isn’t just smart – it’s essential. This holds especially true for those using private wells, as the EPA doesn’t regulate these water sources. 

At-Home Test Kits 

For the DIY homeowners, at-home water testing kits are your go-to. They’re affordable and straightforward: grab a water sample, send it to a lab, and await your PFAS report. While these kits may not be as accurate as professional testing services, they can still provide valuable insights about PFAS in your drinking water. 

Professional Testing 

For peace of mind, professional in-home water testing services offer more comprehensive and accurate results. Leaf Home offers in-home professional water testing. We send a certified pro to your home, collect a water sample for analysis, and provide you with detailed information about the levels of contaminants in your drinking water. 

Remember, not all water testing services are created equal. When choosing a professional testing service, be sure to do your homework. Look for companies with certifications from reputable organizations like the National Environmental Health Association or the American Council for Accredited Certification. 

Schedule your free home water test and get PFAS filtered from your home’s water.

Understanding the EPA’s New PFAS Standards 

A Milestone in Water Safety 

April 10, 2024, marked a pivotal moment for water safety in the United States. Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden-Harris administration announced the first-ever national, legally enforceable standards aimed at shielding communities from the invisible threat of PFAS in our drinking water. This decision places the spotlight firmly on forever chemicals as a critical issue in our ongoing climate and safety dialogues. 

PFAS Limits Under the New Ruling Breaking Down the New Standards 

Previously, the U.S. lacked federal regulations targeting PFAS levels in drinking water. The EPA’s non-binding health advisory had set a threshold of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two prevalent PFAS compounds: PFOA and PFOS. However, the landscape has dramatically shifted with the introduction of these new rules. 

PFAS Limits Under the Spotlight 

The EPA has now established stringent Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs): 

  • For PFOA and PFOS, the bar is set at an unprecedented low of 4.0 ppt. 
  • For other concerning compounds like PFNA, PFHxS, and GenX Chemicals, the limit is 10 ppt. 

This significant reduction aims to minimize PFAS exposure through drinking water, ensuring that every sip brings peace of mind with the cleanest, safest water achievable. 

A Closer Look at Mixtures 

Recognizing that PFAS are often found in mixtures, the EPA will also regulate any combination of two or more from a specific group of PFAS, including PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals, to protect against the cumulative risk of mixed exposures. 

It’s crucial to note that the new standards don’t extend to private wells or individual water systems. If your water comes from these sources, you are responsible for testing and treating it. 

Action and Accountability: Key Points of the New PFAS Ruling 

  • Monitoring and Mitigation: With a three-year window for initial PFAS monitoring, municipalities are tasked with identifying and addressing these contaminants. 
  • Keeping Communities Informed: Public utilities must disclose PFAS findings in the drinking water to the public. 
  • Deadline for Compliance: With a mandate to reduce PFAS levels by 2028, public water systems have a clear timeline to align with these new safety benchmarks, backed by ongoing EPA research to refine and finalize standards. 

This landmark ruling signifies an ambitious step for water safety, emphasizing the need for transparency and action to safeguard our most precious resource. 

How the EPA is Combatting PFAS in Drinking Water 

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA is tackling the PFAS crisis head-on with a strategic long-term plan. 

Investing in Our Future: First, the EPA is investing $21 billion to strengthen the nation’s drinking water systems while addressing and remediating PFAS contamination in drinking water. 

Allocating Funds: Of that budget, $9 billion goes straight to communities to assist in paying for the initial costs to comply with the new PFAS standard. The remaining $12 billion is earmarked for research and development, drinking water technology, and initiatives to improve the safety and quality of our drinking water supply. 

Crunching the Numbers: The EPA estimates that 6% and 10% of our nation’s 66,000 public drinking water systems will need to step up to meet these new standards. But here’s the kicker — making these moves isn’t just about compliance; it’s a lifesaving play. Reducing PFAS levels means preventing thousands of premature deaths and serious illnesses, from cancer to heart disease, not to mention shielding our kids from immune and developmental harm. 

The EPA is rolling out a series of webinars designed to help the public, communities, and water utilities better understand these new PFAS standards. To learn more about the webinars, visit the EPA’s PFAS drinking water regulation webpage. 

Reducing PFAS in Drinking Water 

Nobody should have to worry about their tap water being safe to drink or cook. But here we are, facing off against PFAS. The good news? We’re not out of options. The EPA has found three technologies that effectively remove PFAS from drinking water. 

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Filtration 

Think of GAC filtration as the superhero of water treatments. It’s all about adsorption, a fancy way of saying it traps unwanted substances on its surface – like how lint sticks to your sweater. GAC has been shown to effectively remove PFAS, especially the big guys like PFOA and PFOS, as water flows through it. But it’s not one-size-fits-all; factors like the type of carbon used, how deep the bed is, flow rate, and even the water’s temperature can affect how well it works. 

Ion Exchange Resins 

Ion exchange resins are the magnets of water purification. These tiny, highly porous, insoluble beads grab onto contaminants like PFAS and don’t let go. There are two types: cationic (CER) for positively charged contaminants and anionic (AER) for negatively charged ones, like PFAS. While they’re great at what they do, ion exchange effectiveness depends on resin choice, bed depth, flow rate, and the specific PFAS targeted. 

Reverse Osmosis 

Reverse osmosis is the powerhouse of PFAS removal, with a 90% effective rate. It filters out almost everything you don’t want in your water, including PFAS, by pushing water through a super-fine membrane. It’s the preferred method for removing PFAS, as membranes with tiny pores can catch contaminants that other methods might miss.  

Best suited for low levels of high-molecular-weight PFAS removals (e.g., PFOA), it has a bit of a waste issue, creating a concentrated leftover mix that needs to be handled with care. That’s why it’s usually recommended for homeowners as a point-of-entry (where water enters the home) or point-of-use (sink or faucet) technology, keeping waste disposal simpler and greener. 

Protect Your Family from PFAS Contamination 

Reducing exposure to PFAS in your household is crucial for protecting your family’s health. Here are some practical steps you can take to minimize PFAS exposure: 

  • Install a point-of-entry water filtration system: A whole-house water filtration system, like those offered by Leaf Home Water Purification, can effectively remove PFAS and other contaminants from your home’s water supply. This ensures that every water source in your home, including showers and dishwashing, is protected against PFAS. 
  • Use PFAS-free household products: Avoid using products that contain PFAS, such as non-stick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics. Opt for safer alternatives or consider switching to more natural cleaning products. 
  • Conserve water: Curbing your water usage helps reduce the amount of PFAS-contaminated water discharged into the environment. This helps protect your community’s drinking water supply and contributes to environmental sustainability. 
  • Proper disposal of PFAS-containing products: When getting rid of products that contain PFAS, such as non-stick pans or stain-resistant carpets, dispose of them properly at a designated hazardous waste facility. This process prevents these chemicals from contaminating landfills and potentially leaching into water sources. 

Taking proactive steps to reduce exposure to PFAS can significantly benefit your family’s health and contribute positively to the ongoing efforts to manage this harmful contaminant in our environment. 

A Clear Path Forward 

Staying ahead of the curve is crucial as PFAS rises as a major water safety issue. By understanding PFAS, testing their presence, and employing effective removal technologies, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from potential harm. 

Leaf Home Water Solutions stands at the forefront of this battle, offering cutting-edge solutions for households nationwide. To understand how reverse osmosis systems can help reduce PFAS from your drinking water, take your first step towards cleaner, safer water here.

In a world where water safety can no longer be taken for granted, staying informed and taking decisive action against contaminants like PFAS is not just wise—it’s essential. Together, we can ensure that our drinking water is as safe and clean as nature intended. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are PFAS harmful to humans? 

Yes! PFAS have been linked to a range of health issues in humans, which underscores the concern surrounding their presence in the environment, particularly in drinking water. Studies conducted over the years suggest that exposure to PFAS can lead to several health risks, such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and potential risks to infant birth weights. Furthermore, some studies have found associations between PFAS exposure and increased risk of certain cancers, including kidney and testicular cancers. 

Examples of PFAS 

PFAS encompasses a wide range of chemical compounds, each with its unique structure and use in various industries. Among the most well-known examples of PFAS are Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), commonly used in the production of Teflon and other non-stick materials, and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS), once a key ingredient in Scotchgard fabric protector. Other notable PFAS compounds include GenX, a substitute for PFOA developed to reduce environmental and health impacts, and Perfluorononanoic Acid (PFNA), which has been used in specialty coatings and the production of firefighting foams. 

What Foods are High in PFAS? 

PFAS contamination in food can occur through several pathways, including environmental contamination of soil and water used in agriculture, bioaccumulation in fish and other wildlife, and using PFAS-containing equipment and materials during food processing. Foods known sometimes to contain higher levels of PFAS include seafood harvested from contaminated areas, dairy products, and produce grown in PFAS-affected soil or water. Processed foods packaged in materials that contain PFAS can also be a source of exposure. Given these risks, consumers must be aware of potential sources of PFAS in their diet and seek to minimize exposure where possible. 

Does Bottled Water Contain PFAS? 

Concerns about PFAS contamination have extended to bottled water, prompting investigations and testing by regulatory bodies and independent researchers. The findings suggest that PFAS can be present in some bottled water brands, albeit typically at lower levels than in some public water systems. This variance largely depends on the source of the bottled water, the bottling process, and the materials used in packaging. Consumers should seek out brands that specifically test for and report PFAS levels. Currently, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not the EPA, which has more stringent regulations. Regulatory efforts are underway to establish stricter guidelines for PFAS in bottled water. 

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