What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?


Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd 

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have been receiving a ton of media attention throughout this past year. PFAS are a category of toxic contaminants that have invaded public and private drinking water systems across the entire country. This article discusses what PFAS actually are, where they come from, their health effects, and if they are regulated by the federal government. 

What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of “emerging contaminants,” which means they have been detected in the environment but the risk to human health is not well-understood. GenX, PFOA, and PFOS are all common contaminants that fall under the category of PFAS. Companies such as DuPont, Chemours, and 3M have been using variations of these chemicals in industrial and consumer products since the early 1950’s. Scotchgard, Teflon, firefighting foam, metal plating, heat/water repellent products, and stain resistant fabrics are associated with this category of contaminant. PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment, which means they do not readily degrade. Several states such as North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Vermont have been seriously affected by this dangerous category of contaminant.

Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Regulated?

No. The entire class of PFAS is currently unregulated. This means that municipalities and state agencies are not required to test for it.

What Are The Health Effects of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

According to a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), PFAS exposure is associated with various adverse health effects, including an increased risk of cancer, lowered fertility rates, increased cholesterol, and developmental issues in infants and young children. Laboratory tests on animals don’t provide a completely accurate depiction of health effects, but they do provide the closest benchmark to humans.

How Are Humans Exposed To Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

Humans are exposed to PFAS through various routes:
  • Consumption of contaminated drinking water
  • Consumption of fish and shellfish that may contain PFAS through bioaccumulation
  • Industrial exposure to workers who manufacture PFAS

What Are Public Officials Doing About Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

EPA set a Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for both PFOA and PFOS. The rule of thumb for PFAS is that the sum of the category of contaminants should be no higher than 70 parts per trillion. ATSDR believes this level should be reduced to 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. Again, Lifetime Health Advisory Levels and Minimum Risk Levels are non-enforceable limits that municipalities are not required to follow.

Do All Water Filters Remove PFAS?

No. Duke University and NC State University tested various water filtration brands and their ability to remove PFAS from drinking water. We were surprised to see how poorly major brands like Brita, Pur, Berkey, Whirlpool, and GE performed in this study. If you'd like to see how Hydroviv filters stacked up, check out the results here. Some of the brands even added PFAS chemicals back into the finished water. The poor results from our competitors are likely the result of over-saturation and cheaper filtration media.

If you have any questions about PFAS in your drinking water, feel free to drop us a line at hello@hydroviv.com. You can also visit hydroviv.com and use our live chat feature. 

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
PFAS: What You Need To Know
Recap of EPA's 2018 PFAS National Leadership Summit
PFAS: Toxicological Profile
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