What’s in your drinking water?
We want to believe that the water we drink is as pure as it looks, but the truth is that there’s more to the world’s most common beverage than meets the eye.
What are PFAs?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals used all over the world to manufacture a variety of high-demand consumer goods.
There are an estimated 4,700 chemicals categorized as PFAs, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), and GenX.
Since they were invented in the 1930s, PFAs have become prized for their ability to repel things like water and oil. Those qualities make PFAs useful for products such as waterproof clothing, food packaging, nonstick cookware, and even dental floss.
Why are PFAs dangerous?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there have been studies conducted that found links between PFOA and PFOS and problems with reproductive health and development as well causing negative effects on the liver, kidney, and immune systems.
Some animals included in the studies grew tumors after being exposed to the chemicals, while others had high cholesterol levels. Other studies show exposure to PFAS may increase an individual’s risk of cancer and make vaccines less effective.
PFAs are particularly concerning because they’re “forever chemicals” that don’t break down.
Once they’re released into the environment, they’re there for eternity. That means they also have the potential to build up in the body over time. The more someone is exposed to PFAs, through their drinking water perhaps, the more at risk they are of harboring high levels of potentially dangerous compounds.
How do PFAs end up in water?
The two most common PFAS chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — are no longer made in the United States, but unfortunately they’ve still left their mark. Check your water quality.
Even though manufacturers began voluntarily phasing out PFAs in the early 2000s, the damage is already done. Tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found the drinking water or groundwater on sites in 49 states to be contaminated with PFAs, including particularly high levels in metropolitan areas such as New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia.
Experts believe that PFAS get into ground and drinking water because of how they’re made and disposed of, and also because some manufacturers have been careless in how they use and move these chemicals.
It’s impossible to clean up spilled PFAS — once they’re in the soil, they can migrate to nearby water sources and slowly spread to contaminate the water we drink, cook with, and wash with.
How do you remove PFAS?
While you can’t necessarily destroy PFAS, you can filter them out of your water to reduce your exposure and your risk.
The EPA supports water treatment methods including
- using activated carbon,
- ion exchange resins,
- and high-pressure membranes, like nanofiltration and reverse osmosis, to remove PFAS from water and make it safer for consumption and other everyday uses.
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