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By: Tyler Gatewood on September 4th, 2020

What are Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water?

In early 2020, a study was released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) with findings that there are heightened levels of potentially life-threatening “forever chemicals” in the water supply of many American cities.

The term “forever chemicals” refers to PFAS, short for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. This consists of a group of man-made chemicals that are found in many items that we use and consume on a daily basis.

While they have been gaining attention recently, the truth is that they have been around for decades. They have been used in commercial products since the 1940s and can be found in almost every American home. They are used in many manufacturing facilities, which means that many daily items are potentially putting you and your family at risk.

Furthermore, the study uncovered that PFAS has been found in rainwater in many parts of the U.S., which leads to the conclusion that PFAS is more than likely detectable in all major water suppliers in the country.

So, What Are PFAS?

PFAS are created by combining carbon and fluoride, creating one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. This bond makes PFAS the ideal chemical for repellents.

They garner the “forever” term because they can survive in your bloodstream for many years without breaking down. These chemicals can indefinitely persist in the environment and accumulate in your body. 

PFAS have become more scrutinized in recent years due to their multitude of adverse health effects and the recent discovery of their widespread presence in the environment, particularly in drinking water.

What Are the Different Types of PFAS

Three of the most common PFAS are PFOA, PFOS, and GenX, with PFOA and PFOS being the most studied.

Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)

You are most likely to be exposed to PFOA by consumption, either by drinking contaminated water or using food items packaged or washed in PFOA contaminated water or materials. It is believed to be widespread in the U.S. population, a conclusion that was determined by the CDC finding measurable amounts of PFOA in the serum of nearly all of the 2,094 participants that were tested.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)

PFOS is a synthetic, fully fluorinated organic acid that is used in many consumer products. It is stable to environmental degradation, and is often used in products that repel water, grease, and stains. While the U.S. voluntarily phased out production of PFOS, it is still found in many imported items as well as preexisting items.

GenX Chemicals

GenX is the name for a chemical that is used to make high performance fluoropolymers, which include nonstick coatings. GenX was invented in 2009 by the chemical company DuPont and was marketed as a replacement for PFOA, however it has been shown to cause the same health problems.

Where Am I Being Exposed to PFAS?

Because they are so common, exposure can happen in many different ways. Some common areas where exposure can occur are:

  •         Food items packaged in material containing PFAS
  •         Food items produced on equipment that uses PFAS
  •         Food items grown in soil that is contaminated by PFAS
  •         Many commercial household products, including nonstick cookware, cleaning products, paints, and varnishes
  •         Work environments such as production facilities that use PFAS
  •         Drinking water from public water systems that use PFAS
  •         Living organisms, such as fish from bodies of water that are contaminated

What Are the Health Effects of PFAS?

PFAS are found in a wide range of products that you likely use daily, meaning that your exposure could be high. If you are drinking water straight from the faucet, your exposure could be even higher. Because they do not break down, the presence of PFAS accumulates in your body, causing adverse health effects.

When studied in lab animals, PFAS are known to cause problems with development and reproduction, in the liver and kidneys, and immunologically. The most consistent finding in humans is high cholesterol levels within populations that have been highly exposed. There have also been limited findings in the following:

  •         Low infantile birth weights
  •         Negative effects on the immune system
  •         Increased risk of cancer
  •         Infertility
  •         Interference with thyroid function

How to Avoid PFAS

Consumption of PFAS is the most common source, so it is best to ensure that the water you are drinking and washing your food with is safe. Studies have found that while using any filter is better than no filter, many common household filters were inconclusive with their results.

Activated-carbon filters were reported to only remove 73% of PFAS contaminants, however there were some instances where the contaminants were either completely removed or not at all.

Install a Reverse Osmosis Filter

This study did note, however, that all under-sink reverse osmosis and two-stage filters nearly removed all PFAS chemicals tested. It was reported that 94 percent or more of all contaminants were removed, though more testing is necessary to determine what made them perform so well.

With reverse osmosis, a semi-permeable membrane filters pure water through, while rejecting larger molecules, such as bacteria and other contaminants. Reverse Osmosis systems will cost between $50 and $60 per month, which includes equipment rental, filter changes, and equipment maintenance and repair.

Install a Water Dispenser

Another option would be to install a water dispenser in your home.  With this option, it is easy to tailor your order to fit your family’s needs. You are also guaranteed top quality water that meets FDA regulations.

Exell will provide you with a water dispenser cooler in addition to a delivery frequency that best fits your needs. The average household can expect to spend between $30 and $50 per month for fresh, clean water. This price includes the delivery surcharge, equipment rental fee, and equipment maintenance and repair.

Know Your Options for Safe Drinking Water

PFAS have gained public attention recently and are top of mind with the EPA when determining new drinking water standards. This is sure to prompt federal and state policymakers to set a more science-based standard, and Congress has recently passed a bill that will expand the reporting and monitoring of PFAS.

In the meantime, your best bet is to research other options for drinking water. At Exell, we are here to answer any questions that you have about your water service needs. We will begin with conducting a site survey, and with the information gained from that survey, we will help you to determine the best solution for safe and clean drinking water.