A Toxicologist’s Tips for Parents Regarding PFAS in Drinking Water
What are PFAS?
PFAS are man-made chemicals. The most common and best studied PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
They are found in a wide variety of household items, such as carpets, clothing, non-stick pans, paints, polishes, waxes, cleaning products, and food packaging. They are also use by firefighters in fire-extinguishing foams. They do not breakdown and are water-soluble. Therefore, they easily get into soil and water.
Today, PFAS are found in water sources such as ponds, river, and lakes, in public water systems, in fish, in food, in indoor dusts from the breakdown of carpets and household items, and in food packaging.
Infants and children are the most susceptible to PFAS contamination, because they have a smaller body weight and because they are closer to the floor where dusts and carpets emit these chemicals. They also have less ability to break down chemicals in their bodies. These chemicals can pass through the umbilical cord to an unborn child as well.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these chemicals can cause cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. According to James DeWitt, a professor at East Carolina University, parents should make sure they now where their water comes from and find out if has PFAS in it.
For more information see this new report from the National Wildlife Federation. The Science and Policy of PFAS in the Great Lakes Region. It contains background on PFAS and recommended actions for State legislators to address the threats posed to our waters and public health from these chemicals.
Note that earlier this year, the EPA lowered standards for cleaning up PFAS in water.
What Should Parents Do If PFAS Are In The Water?
The Rhode Island Department of Health makes these recommendations.
- Don’t boil the water as it will concentrate the chemicals.
- Use water from a safe source for cooking or for any time you will be swallowing the water or breathing it as in a humidifier.
- Breast feed or use a formula that doesn’t need added water.
- Don’t use non-stick pans.
Unsafe levels of toxic chemicals found in drinking water for six million Americans (Harvard Chan School release)
New Superfund Center launched to investigate industrial chemicals (Harvard Chan School news)