PFAs: another contaminant, another challenge.
In the last half decade, the ’new’ toxin known as PFAS is in our sights. It’s in the public domain, having been hunted out of corporate secret cellars. And it’s one more growing concern with our drinking water.. but that’s not the only place you’ll find it.
With the help of popular movies, books, and environmental advocates like Erin Brokovitch, and a growing number of citizen action groups, millions now recognise the word at least: PFAS — the acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — and many of those new people understand the potential health consequences from prolonged exposure — cancer, immune system malfunctions, hypertension, thyroid and kidney disease.
It was introduced to the marketplace in the early 1950’s . It was touted for its ability to be used as a water repellent,, flame retardant, and its general indestructibility. Another wunderkind of the American chemical behemoth.
PFAS have now been used in industrial and product manufacturing for a period spanning eighty years. Their broad range of uses in a wide range of consumer products ,and frequent daily contact with these "forever chemicals" means most of, if not all of us except perhaps some Amazonian Indians, have some PFAs in us.
Why is that? Look where PFAS is found:
- Carpets and upholstery (including kid’s car seats!);
- Cosmetic and personal hygiene products - dental floss and makeup;
- Food wrappers and carry-out containers;
- Water resistant shoes and clothing;
Can you say you haven’t used any of these?
So we know now that exposure to PFAS has become increasingly well known, but new information continues to surface pointing to some of the more surprising places PFAS can be found, from the far away to the very local.
PFAS in the Arctic
A recent study assessed 29 PFAS coming into and out of the Arctic Ocean. The study identified the widespread distribution of 11 PFAS, including PFOA, which has mostly been phased out of the industry, and a newer replacement PFAS: HFPO-Dimer Acid (sold under the trade name Gen-X). Higher levels of PFAS were detected in the water exiting the Arctic Ocean compared with the water entering the Arctic from the North Atlantic, suggesting that more of these compounds arose from atmospheric sources than from ocean circulation.1
PFAS has also been shown to bioaccumulate in the Arctic marine ecosystem, including in seals, waterfowl - even the brain tissue of polar bears.2
PFAS in Fracking Chemicals
There are already many reasons to dislike the practice of using hydraulic fracturing (i.e., fracking).
By now, many more communities are becoming downright upset knowing that PFAS has been so widely used in so many products and processes for so long. Now having to deal with PFAs as a byproduct of fracking operations makes it even more unpopular.
A recent report, Fracking with "Forever Chemicals," published by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, suggests that the practice of using certain PFAS in the fracking chemical mixture has been going on for the past decade. Despite environmental concerns posited by the EPA, the use of "trade-secret non-ionic fluorosurfactants" was approved by the agency and has been applied at more than 1,200 wells in six states.3
PFAS in Your Vegetable Chiller?
Obviously we don’t want to ingest these carcinogens if at all possible.
Yet dietary intake is a major potential exposure pathway for PFAS that is still being studied.
A 2018 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sampled foods, including lettuce, cabbage, corn and tomatoes, from areas of the country with known PFAS contamination. Of the 20 samples, 16 were found to contain PFAS.4 Produce using irrigation water or soil contaminated with PFAS readily uptake the chemicals, with contaminant transfer influenced by concentrations and mixtures of PFAS, plant species, soil organic carbon and other factors.5 Thus, dietary exposure to PFAS is very likely when contaminated irrigation water is used, pointing to the need for further studies, testing and eventually the establishment of PFAS limits for irrigation water.
PFAS in Your blood?
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, PFAS is found in almost all Americans' blood, regardless of age, race, or gender.
And although the CDC states, "Human health effects from PFCs at low environmental doses or at bio-monitored levels from low environmental exposures are unknown," the fact that the average total PFAS in blood serum currently exceeds 5,000 parts per trillion (ppt) should make us breathe in and hold.. and stay calm.6
Trends over time indicate these levels are slowly decreasing as PFAS materials are gradually phased out of manufacturing. But there is more work to be done to identify and remove the PFAS sources contributing to all the various sources of PFAS in our blood.
The most potentially significant of these PFAS sources, is something we are told to consume regularly.
PFAS in Your Drinking Water?
After almost 80 years of manufacturing, uncontrolled releases, and disposal practices, it shouldn’t surprise us that PFAS is found in our drinking water.
However, it’s the extent of these impacts that is both surprising and unsettling.
According to the Environmental Working Group, more than 200 million Americans may be exposed to PFAS simply by drinking a glass of water.
To date, more than 2,200 public water supplies have been identified with PFAS contaminants.7 From the lens of human health and risk assessment, much of the nation's drinking water is now considered a source of PFAS exposure.
Groundwater supplies make up approximately 40% of U.S. drinking water.8 The risk of PFAS groundwater contamination is most significant where it is encountered at shallow depths and where there are PFAS sources nearby (e.g. a fire training area at a military base). We are only beginning to comprehend how many PFAS-contaminated groundwater sites exist, but there are undoubtedly many thousands. Fortunately, a field-proven method is available and being used now to effectively address PFAS contamination in groundwater near these source areas and cut off these contaminants from potential human and environmental exposure.
Can we exclude PFAs from our daily lives? Obviously not, considering the vast majority of us are carrying around an as yet undetermined danger level in our blood and tissue.
Is there a tipping point where our health is affected? We have seen hots spots adjacent to air bases where serious disease has surfaced among local residents. But generally, we still can’t say how much is ‘too much’.
Is there something you can do? From what we’ve shared, it’s obvious that we pick the low hanging fruit; our drinking water.
We’ve researched the best method of limiting PFAs using a water filter. We’ve imported filter cartridges that have been tested to exclude all forms of PFAs. Our UltraStream also uses the best form of exclusion technology, catalytic carbon.
Give us a call.
PFAS Article References
1. Newer PFAS compound detected for first time in Arctic seawater. American Chemical Society. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2020/acs-presspa…
2. Greaves AK, Letcher RJ, Sonne C, Dietz R. Brain region distribution and patterns of bioaccumulative perfluoroalkyl carboxylates and sulfonates in East Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 2013;32(3):713-722. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.2107
3. Horwitt D. Fracking with “Forever Chemicals.” :34.
4. Nutrition C for FS and A. Analytical Results of Testing Food for PFAS from Environmental Contamination. FDA. Published online June 30, 2021. Accessed July 16, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/food/chemical-contaminants-food/analytical-results-…
5. Brown JB, Conder JM, Arblaster JA, Higgins CP. Assessing Human Health Risks from Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (PFAS)-Impacted Vegetable Consumption: A Tiered Modeling Approach. Environ Sci Technol. 2020;54(23):15202-15214. doi:10.1021/acs.est.0c03411
6. Biomonitoring Summary | CDC. Published May 24, 2019. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_BiomonitoringSummary.html
7. Andrews DQ, Naidenko OV. Population-Wide Exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances from Drinking Water in the United States. Environ Sci Technol Lett. 2020;7(12):931-936. doi:10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00713
8. Groundwater Use in the United States. Accessed July 16, 2021. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/groundw…
9. Carey GR, McGregor R, Pham AL-T, Sleep B, Hakimabadi SG. Evaluating the longevity of a PFAS in situ colloidal activated carbon remedy. Remediation Journal. 2019;29(2):17-31. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/rem.21593