Facts about PFAS

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)?

Per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade chemicals that have been used worldwide, including in the United States, in consumer products such as carpets, clothing, food packaging, and cookware, industrial applications and in firefighting since the 1940s. There are between 6,000 and 10,000 different chemical compounds in the PFAS family and they are used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.

Two of these compounds—Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—have been the most extensively produced and studied, and there is evidence that exposure to elevated levels of PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans.

Water utilities are “passive receivers” of PFAS.  They do not produce or manufacture PFAS.  Instead, these chemicals are present in source waters that are treated to produce drinking water. 

Regulations for PFAS 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting regulatory limits under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Currently, there are no established federal water quality regulations for any PFAS compounds.

The EPA has taken some recent steps toward possible future regulation of PFAS:

  • In February 2021, the EPA issued a final determination to regulate PFOA and PFAS in drinking water. The agency also proposed to require water utilities to monitor for 29 PFAS compounds in drinking water under UCMR 5.
  • In April 2021, the EPA announced it would form an EPA Council on PFAS to develop a national strategy to protect public health and make recommendations regarding PFAS.
  • In October 2021, EPA announced the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, detailing the agency’s approach to addressing PFAS.

Health Advisories for PFAS

Results greater than the health advisories (HA) do not mean that there is an emergency, violation, or an immediate health concern for customers. Unlike EPA regulations, EPA's HA are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials. 

EPA’s health advisory levels offer information that may be used to protect people from adverse health effects resulting from exposure throughout their lives to contaminants in drinking water.

In 2016, the EPA HA was 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS combined. Since then, analytical methods have improved, and utilities are now able to test down to lower levels. In June of 2022, EPA issued final HAs for perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA or GenX) and interim HAs for PFOS and PFOA. 

The EPA states that these interim health advisories will remain in place until EPA establishes a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation. The new HAs are listed in the table below. For more information on these HAs, please visit:  https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/questions-and-answers-drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-pfos-genx-chemicals-and-pfbs#q9.

2022 HA Level

Type of HA

2,000 ppt

Final

10 ppt

Final

0.02 ppt*

Interim

0.004 ppt*

Interim


* At this time, the minimum reporting level (the lowest level that lab methods can quantify) is 3.5 ppt, therefore tests cannot be performed that detect down to the EPA’s Interim HAL for PFOS and PFOA.

Stafford County PFAS Analysis

In April 2021, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) requested that Stafford County, along with several other Virginia waterworks, participate in a Virginia PFAS Sampling Study. Results from VDH's Sampling Study were received in June 2021 and can be found here: Stafford County PFAS Sampling Study Results

Virginia Department of Health's PFAS in Drinking Water Sample Study Summary

Below is a summary of all Stafford County PFAS Data, analyzed using EPA Method 533:

Parameter

EPA HA

Stafford Results (range)

PFOA

0.004

All results below QL

PFOS

0.02

Below QL to 6.4

Gen X (HFPO-DA)

10

All results below QL

PFBS

2000

All results below QL

 

*QL (Quantification Limit): the lowest level at which a test method can be accurately reported.

Summary:

  • PFBS – all results are less than the HA level.
  • GenX – all results are non-detect.
  • PFOS and PFOA
    • Some of Stafford County’s results are above EPA’s 2022 health advisory levels.
  • If results are above the 2022 health advisory level, what does that mean for customers? 
    • This is not an emergency or a regulatory violation. If it had been, customers would have been notified. 
    • If you are concerned about potential health effects from exposure to these PFAS above the health advisory level, EPA encourages you to contact your doctor or health care professional.

Stafford County’s Next Steps

  • We are following the guidance of EPA and VDH Office of Drinking Water.
  • We will also be collecting PFAS samples in 2023 for the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5).
  • Further guidance and potential necessary actions may be taken to meet future state and federal regulations when they are established.

Reducing Your Exposure to PFAS

    • Support efforts to protect drinking water sources and keep PFAS out of water supplies.
    • Cook with stainless steel, cast-iron, glass, or ceramics. Don’t use nonstick cookware.
    • Read ingredient lists and choose products without PTFE or perfluoro- or polyfluor-.
    • Look for coats, hats, and boots labeled water-resistant. They’re less likely to have PFAS than waterproof products.
    • Make popcorn on the stove or in an air popper instead of microwave bags.
    • Steer clear of ordering food in grease-resistant wrappers or containers.
    • Avoid carpets and upholstery treated to be stain or water-resistant; decline stain treatment.
    • Ask manufacturers if their products contain PFAS. These chemicals are often not listed.

For more information:


Updated June 16, 2022