The WQA (Water Quality Association) describes PFAS as emerging contaminants of great concern in drinking water. In this article, we will break down four areas to help you understand PFAS contaminants.
- What is the definition of PFAS?
- Where do these contaminants come from?
- Why should you be concerned?
- What are the best mitigation/removal technologies
To get started, let’s provide a definition to help form a reference for these contaminants. PFAS would be more accurately stated as PFA’s. They are an overall category for PFOA and PFOS compounds. These are the two most common compounds being found and researched today. The American Cancer Society provides these definitions:
PFAS – lab-made chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (Category)
PFOA – Perfluorooctanoic Acid (Compound) –
PFOS – Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (Compound)
PFOA and PFOS are a manufactured perfluorochemical and a byproduct in producing fluoropolymers. Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.
If you can pronounce these accurately, then your science background is well formed. From here on, we’ll try to keep this in simple terms.
After breaking down the acronyms, people often wonder what specific ways these chemicals were used. The NTP (National Toxicology Program – US Dept. of Human Health and Services) states that these chemicals were used to keep food from sticking to cookware, make stain-resistant sofas and carpets, waterproof clothing and mattresses, and may also be used in some food packaging, as well as in some fire fighting materials. Because they help reduce friction, they are also used in a variety of other industries including aerospace, automotive, building and construction, and electronics.
You probably recognize several of these types of products and may have used some of them yourself years ago. Unfortunately, these chemicals were not disposed of properly by their manufacturers decades ago and have now found their way into the groundwater supplies around our nation. These chemicals have been given the name “Forever Chemicals” because they last forever and do not break down in the environment. In some studies, they have been given a greater than 50,000 year expected life span. There is continuing research towards remediation. This research poses the questions; how do we remove PFAS out of the environment, and then how do we destroy them?
As you might think, with long lasting chemicals in our groundwater, there could be some health concerns. The health effects of PFAS on humans will vary depending on the research studies, but all are considered serious.
Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:
- Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
- Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
- Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
- Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
- Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
- Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.
On the ATSDR website (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), they make it a point to explain “not all of these studies involved the same groups of people, the same type of exposure, or the same PFAS.” As an emerging contaminant, the physical effects from exposure are something that need further research.
Two technologies have been tested and recognized to remove up to 98% of PFAS from drinking water. Both the WQA and a Purdue University study identified reverse osmosis and activated carbon as reliable solutions.
A reverse osmosis system will include a membrane along with other filters in its system. The membrane is the key to the removal of most PFAS. Other filtration systems such as shell carbon filters, microfiltration, or ultrafiltration, will not remove PFAS effectively. A reverse osmosis system purifies your water versus filtering it. The membrane is a pressure driven technology with a small pore size that allows very few contaminants to pass through. A reverse osmosis is a single point system usually accessed at one faucet by the kitchen sink. It is not intended for whole home purification.
For whole home removal, Activated Carbon is another removal solution. Activated Carbon is a little more involved because its effectiveness depends on the exposure time of water to the proper level of carbon media for effective removal. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Contact your local water treatment dealer to provide you the expertise for proper removal of PFAS contaminants.
A third technology is being researched with an Ion Exchange Resin. An Ion Exchange Resin is what you will find in your water softener. However, this new resin is designed differently to remove PFAS. Hopefully, more will come from this research soon.
With all this information you may be wondering “What should I do?”
Do your research and learn as much as you can. Whether you’re on municipal water or well water, our team at Tri-County Water can help. We understand the water chemistry in the Northeast Indiana areas, the proper treatment, and maintenance. Call us today at (260) 286-7617.