What to Know About PFAS
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, and food packaging. However, PFAS chemicals are also known to be toxic, persistent, and bioaccumulative, meaning they can accumulate in the body and the environment over time. One of the most concerning aspects of PFAS exposure is the potential for contamination in drinking water.
Recent studies have found that PFAS chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans, with some communities experiencing levels far above the recommended safety standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two types of PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), in drinking water. However, some states and health experts argue that this level is too high and that more protective limits are necessary.
The EPA recently issued new rules for PFAS in drinking water to address this issue. The rules establish a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 15 ppt for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. This is a significant reduction from the previous health advisory level and a step toward more protective regulation. In addition, the EPA is also considering regulating other types of PFAS chemicals and establishing a national drinking water standard for the entire class of PFAS.
Many environmental and public health groups have welcomed the new rules, but some critics argue that the MCL is still too high and that more stringent regulations are needed. There is also concern that the new rules may not be enforced or implemented effectively, particularly in areas where PFAS contamination is widespread.
One such area is Maryland, where recent testing has revealed high levels of PFAS in several water systems. In January 2021, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) announced that it had found elevated levels of PFAS in drinking water at two military installations, Fort Detrick and Joint Base Andrews. The MDE also identified six public water systems in the state that had tested above the EPA’s health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA.
In response, the state has taken several steps to address the issue. The MDE has required the water systems to install treatment systems or provide alternative water sources to their customers. The state has also allocated funding for additional testing and research and a public education campaign to inform residents about PFAS contamination and ways to reduce their exposure.
While the situation in Maryland is concerning, it is unfortunately not unique. PFAS contamination has been found in water systems nationwide, particularly in areas near military bases and industrial sites where the chemicals have been heavily used. The new EPA rules are an important step toward addressing this issue, but more action is needed to protect public health and the environment from the harmful effects of PFAS.
PFAS contamination in drinking water is a serious issue that requires immediate attention and action. The recent EPA rules establishing a new MCL for PFOS and PFOA are positive, but more protective regulation and enforcement are needed. The situation in Maryland highlights the urgent need for increased testing, research, and public education to address PFAS contamination in affected communities. As awareness of this issue continues to grow, it is essential that policymakers and industry leaders take action to protect the health and safety of all Americans.
The EPA PFAS Fact Sheet can be found here.
- EPA: PFOA, PFOS and Other PFAS
- EPA: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
- PFAS Investigation – Patuxent River NAS
- MDE: Pilot PFAS Sampling Program St. Mary’s River
- MDE: Maryland and PFAS
- MDE: Fish and Shellfish Programs
- MDE: Basic Information on PFAS
- MDE: 12-18-19 Memo: Update on MDE Efforts to Address PFAS in Maryland
- EPA: PFAS Infographic (PDF)
- CDC: Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet
- EPA Takes Action to Address PFAS in Drinking Water
- DOD: Addressing Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)