EPA Standards for PFAS Are Just Around Some Far-Distant Corner

The Environmental Protection Agency announced interim health advisories for four perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are substantially lower than the advisory levels issued by the agency in 2016.  The EPA’s  heath advisory from 2016 called for no more than 70 parts per trillion for the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS.  A Health Advisory, or HA,  is miles of political maneuvering away from an enforcable standard that would actually require municipal water providers to reduce PFAS to a specified level. 

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others. One common concern is that PFAS generally break down very slowly, meaning that concentrations can accumulate in people, animals, and the environment over time. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals.”  PFAS ingestion has been implicated in human health issues from birth defects to cancer.

The updated EPA  Health Advisory for PFOA is 0.004 ppt.  That’s parts per trillion. For PFOS it’s 0.02 ppt.

Although it may take years of political wrangling before EPA enforceable standards are finally set for these “forever chemicals,” the PFAS issue is not as complicated for individuals. Here’s what you should know.

First, PFAS, like arsenic, fluoride, lead, nitrates, and some other significant water issues,  are almost entirely an ingestion issue. There is general agreement that routine household use of PFAS-contaminated water, including bathing, does not pose a health risk.  It is a drinking water problem.

Removing PFAS from drinking water is not hard at all. Point of use reverse osmosis units remove PFAS handily. Likewise, good quality carbon drinking water filters.

Whole home treatment of PFAS is more difficult, but high quality carbon block filters with regular cartridge change can provide PFAS-free water for the whole home.