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PFAS Health & Safety Information
MassDEP Drinking Water Standards
The MassDEP drinking water standard is based on studies of the six PFAS substances in laboratory animals and studies of exposed people. Overall, these studies indicate that exposure to sufficiently elevated levels of the six PFAS compounds may cause developmental effects in fetuses during pregnancy and in breastfed infants. Effects on the thyroid, the liver, kidneys, hormone levels and the immune system have also been reported. Some studies suggest a cancer risk may exist following long-term exposures to elevated levels of some of these compounds.
It is important to note that consuming water with PFAS6 above the drinking water standard does not mean that adverse effects will occur. The degree of risk depends on the level of the chemicals and the duration of exposure. The drinking water standard assumes that individuals drink only contaminated water, which typically overestimates exposure, and that they are also exposed to PFAS6 from sources beyond drinking water, such as food. To enhance safety, several uncertainty factors are additionally applied to account for differences between test animals and humans, and to account for differences between people. Scientists are still working to study and better understand the health risks posed by exposures to PFAS.
If PFAS6 levels are over the MCL, sensitive consumers (pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants) should consider using bottled water that has been tested for PFAS for drinking, for making infant formula, and for cooking foods that absorb water (such as rice). Alternatively, you could use a home water treatment system that is certified to remove PFAS by an independent testing group such as National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Water Quality Association or the CSA Group. For more information, see MassDEP’s website on PFAS (under “Bottled water and home water filters”)
How am I exposed to PFAS?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
How else am I exposed to PFAS?
People are exposed to PFAS from many sources, far beyond their drinking water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, people are exposed to PFAS by food packaged in materials containing PFAS, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS contaminated soil or water. People may also have been exposed to PFAS in the workplace through production facilities or industries that involve chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, and oil recovery.
In addition, many commercial household products contained PFAS, and if made outside the United States, may still be made with PFAS. Those include stain- and water-repellant fabrics, nonstick cookware and other products, polishes, waxes, paints, and cleaning products, to name a few.
When found in drinking water, it is often the result of PFAS discharged from a nearby manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, or firefighter training facility that used fire suppressing foams.
In the United States and other industrialized countries, most people have concentrations of these compounds in their blood. The good news is the levels have been dropping as use of certain PFAS have been discontinued. A 2015-2016 federal study found an 82% drop in PFOS and 70% drop in PFOA in the general population, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.