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What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 4:26 pm -0400

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

Problems We Found With Washington, D.C. Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, July 30, 2018 at 10:29 am -0400

Analies Dyjak | Water Nerd  
Updated July 17, 2019 to include current data

For Hydroviv's assessment of Washington, DC's tap water, we collected water quality test data from DC Water's annual Consumer Confidence Report and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We cross referenced their water quality data with toxicity studies in scientific and medical literature. The water filters that we sell at Hydroviv are optimized to filter out contaminants that are found in DC's drinking water.

Where Does DC Source Its Drinking Water?

DC Water purchases water from The Washington Aqueduct, which is owned and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Washington Aqueduct draws 140 million gallons of water from the Potomac River everyday. DC Water then properly treats the water before distribution. 

Lead In DC Drinking Water

Lead has been a major problem in DC's drinking water for several decades. DC had a major lead crisis in the early 2000’s, so this contaminant is something we like to look out for. According to this years report, 10% of the samples tested for lead had concentrations over 3 parts per billion. There were 118 samples collected over a monitoring period from January to June, and 3 samples had lead levels over the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion. EPA, CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all acknowledge that there is no safe level of lead for children. It’s also important to note that many of DC’s homes were built with lead plumbing and lead fixtures, so the relatively small sample size may not necessarily reflect the scope of the lead problem in DC. We've linked a map of the identified lead service lines throughout Washington, DC. We highly recommend that DC residents take advantage of the city’s free lead test program. To get a free lead test kit, just call 202-612-3440 or email leadtest@dcwater.com.

Disinfection Byproducts in DC Drinking Water

Next is Disinfection byproducts or DBPs. DBPs form when chlorine-based disinfectants react with organic matter in incoming water. DBPs are split into two categories: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids-5 (HAA5). Concentrations of TTHMs averaged 49 parts per billion, but levels were detected as high as 82 parts per billion in DC water. HAA5 concentrations averaged 31 parts per billion and reached levels as high as 49 parts per billion. While Washington D.C.'s water quality is technically still in compliance of loose EPA standards, these levels are definitely high. www.hydroviv.com to talk to a Water Nerd on our live chat feature.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Disinfection Byproducts In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
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Breaking: ATSDR Releases Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 5:09 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) just released a draft toxicological profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances such as PFOA and PFOS. This category of emerging contaminants have flooded news headlines this past year, even though they've been persistent in the environment since the 1950’s. PFOA and PFOS are ingredients used in the production of non-stick materials like Scotchgaurd, Teflon, and firefighting foam. The risk to human health is "unknown" but exposure has been linked to various types of cancer, developmental issues, and preeclampsia in laboratory animals.

June 20, 2018 ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls

Municipalities across the country have been demanding that government agencies expedite toxicological reports for this dangerous class of contaminants. Wilmington, North Carolina and several Michigan municipalities are just some of the locations that have been severely impacted by perfluoroalkyl contamination. Unfortunately, GenX, the most popular PFAS was not included in this particular toxicity study. This toxicological profile included provisional Minimal Risk Levels for both PFOA and PFOS. A Minimal Risk Level (MRL) is a non-enforceable standard, similar to an EPA health advisory level. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommended reducing EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory from 70 parts per trillion to 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. This means municipalities across the country may be in exceedance with this new health recommendation, so people should stay current with public notices in their area.

Are Perfluoroalkyls Now Regulated? 

It’s important to note that this toxicity study does not mean that PFOA and PFOS contaminants are now regulated. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry can only make recommendations and provide scientific data regarding this class of contaminants. It’s now up to regulatory agencies to comb through these data and make decisions to ensure that public health is protected. The regulatory process in this country, especially for toxic substances, can take upwards of decades. A regulation proposed by EPA or CDC could take years to draft and even longer before it’s enforceable.

Our Water Nerds are working around the clock to help make sense of this 852 page document. We’ll be reviewing the document and providing information on our Youtube, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Make sure to subscribe and follow Water Nerd TV on Facebook to stay up to date!

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Algal Blooms and Cyanotoxins: What You Need To Know

Analies Dyjak @ Friday, June 8, 2018 at 1:58 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Spring is typically the time when algal blooms are most prevalent. Water temperature rises and increased sunlight allows for higher rates of photosynthesis. However, increased aquatic plant life can often lead to impairments in your drinking water. Here’s everything you need to know about algal blooms, cyanotoxins, and how to ensure your water is safe to drink.

What are Cyanotoxins?

Cyanobacteria naturally occurs in surface water. After an influx of nutrients or a sudden increase in water temperature, cyanobacteria can create Harmful Algal Blooms or HABs. HABs can then produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to humans and the environment. Microcystins are the most widespread cyanotoxin in the United States, the most toxic being Microcystin-LR. Cyanotoxins are not currently federally regulated but the World Health Organization has provided an advisory level of 1 part per million for Microcystin-LR. Algal blooms and cyanotoxin production are extremely susceptible to changes in the surrounding environment. Toxicity levels can change within a matter of hours, making detection very difficult.

What are the Health Effects of Cyanotoxins in Drinkng Water?

Acute exposure to cyanotoxins in drinking water can result in fevers, headaches, joint pain, stomach cramps and mouth ulcers and in severe cases, seizures, liver failure, and respiratory arrest. Studies have also found that long term exposure of low levels of microcystins can promote tumor growth, especially in the liver.

What Increases Levels of Cyanobacteria?

Anthropogenic factors are the predominant reason for an increased frequency and magnitude of cyanotoxin events. Nutrient loading from agricultural practices can cause algal blooms in both fresh and marine water, which also deoxygenates water systems.

How Do Harmful Algal Blooms Affect Water Treatment Facilities?

Municipal water treatment facilities generally do a good job of filtering out algae and cyanobacteria. They face problems when a large influx of algae clogs the filtration media. This can be costly to mitigate and challenging for municipalities if they lack proper equipment. Because cyanotoxins are not regulated, there’s a bit of a grey area as to whether municipalities are obligated to be looking for these contaminants. 

As always, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv's "Help No Matter What" technical support policy, where we answer questions related to cyanotoxins, drinking water and water filtration. Drop us a line at hello@hydroviv.com.

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
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Recap of the 2018 PFAS National Leadership Summit and Engagement

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm -0400

***Updated 5/30/2018 to include video

Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Scott Pruitt has finally decided to address a class of contaminants that Hydroviv has been tracking for years. The 2018 PFAS National Leadership Summit and Engagement began yesterday, May 22nd, at EPA headquarters here in Washington, D.C. The goal of the summit is to bring together states, tribes, and territories who have been adversely affected by Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of dangerous emerging contaminants. If you live in Wilmington, North Carolina or near Maplewood, Minnesota, you are probably very familiar with PFAS contamination. This class of chemicals was historically used in food packaging, Teflon, Scotchgard, fire fighting foam, and has now invaded many drinking water sources in the United States.

EPA PFAS Summit Recap

Pruitt sounded hopeful in his opening remarks on Tuesday. He stated that PFAS contamination is a “national priority” and that EPA is “developing groundwater cleanup recommendations.” He also announced that EPA is working to create a 4-step action plan. A major component of this plan is to set Maximum Contaminant Levels (or MCLs) that municipalities would be required to meet. MCLs are enforceable limits that are set as close to a “no risk” level as possible. Many states such as New Jersey, voiced their concerns on the lengthy time scale that it typically takes EPA to set drinking water standards. States have jurisdiction to create their own more stringent drinking water standards, but again, this is a lengthy and expensive process.

How Will PFAS Be Regulated? 

The Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates public drinking water systems that supply at least 25 people at 15 service connections. Private well users will not be regulated by the proposed PFAS Maximum Contaminant Levels. It’s also important to mention that through the Safe Drinking Water Act, municipalities bare the burden of meeting these drinking water quality standards. Because PFAS contaminants are so complex, complete removal at the municipal level is impossible without spending a small fortune for advanced technology that may not even be effective. A representative from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), agreed that the toxicological profiles for various types of PFAS would be released as soon as possible. The same representative also stated that the minimal risk level for PFAS should be dropped to 12 parts-per-trillion instead of the current EPA health advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion. Some scientists believe that even this threshold is still too high. The health director of the Natural Resources Defense Council recommends that PFAS standards should be set in the 4-10 parts- per-trillion range. These conflicting opinions demonstrate just how ambiguous water quality standards are in this country.

History of Drinking Water Regulations

Although one might be quick to point fingers at the current administration, Scott Pruitt isn’t completely to blame for weak water quality standards. In fact, none of the recent EPA administrators have seriously taken on water quality regulations. After the major environmental policy reform in the early 1970’s, there hasn’t been a real push to amend important statutes that protect waters of the US. Certain drinking water standards that were set in the 1970’s are still acting as the federal floor today. Drinking water regulations have been in a state of limbo ever since the 1996 Amendments of the Safe Drinking Water Act. These amendments, developed under the Clinton Administration, addressed important gaps in the original 1974 statute. Unfortunately, since the 1996 amendments, entirely new classes of harmful contaminants have become prominent in our nations’ waters. Emergent chemicals such as PFAS weren’t mentioned in the 1996 amendments because regulators were unaware of just how dangerous they would become to human health. Again, we cannot completely blame this current administration. The scientific community has known about PFAS-like compounds for decades and still minimal action has been taken to mitigate exposure.

Future PFAS Standards & Regulations

As a result of this summit, PFAS will most likely not become a federally regulated contaminant. As we’ve stated before, the regulatory process for drinking water standards can take decades. The United States has a long way to go to improve the process of creating and setting federal drinking water standards. Making data available and learning more about these sophisticated emerging contaminants are important steps in mitigating exposure.

The good news is that our filters have been laboratory approved to remove PFAS! If you have any questions regarding PFAS or Hydroviv filters, send us an email at hello@hydroviv.com or use the chat function on our website. 

 

Other articles we think you might enjoy:
Minnesota PFAS Contaminatation
What you need to know about Perfluroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
GenX Contamination in Drinking Water