Posted by Jeff Wahl on 12/12/2022 to Water Contaminants
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of over 4700 human made synthetics. They’re commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and collection in living tissues. Defined as a large group of synthetic compounds, they include perfluoro octane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as well as thousands of other variants. PFAS have been of particular interest lately, as their detection at many sites across North America has viable environmental and drinking water concerns.
PFAS Origins & Usages
With origins dating back to the 1940’s, this group of chemicals has been used in a wide variety of industrial and consumer products.
These include common household items such as adhesives, cleaning products, nonstick pans, food wrapping containers, clothing, electronics, cosmetics, and fire fighting foams.
They are also used in water, stain, and oil repellent coatings for paper products and fabric. Two of the most common PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, have been prohibited in Canada to manufacture, import, sell, or use.
It is reasonable to say that PFAS can be found in all water sources
Recent studies have identified PFAS in surface water, groundwater, wastewater and rainwater sources. This cannot go understated, as additional testing across the globe has identified PFAS in remote areas as well as developed ones. Their persistent nature allows them to remain in the environment for long periods of time after introduction. While they have been known for many years, emphasis on establishing regulations has become more prominent.
In April of 2021 the Canadian Government announced “The Government of Canada will continue to invest in research and monitoring on PFAS, collect and examine information on PFAS to inform a class-based approach as well as review policy developments in other jurisdictions. In addition, within the next 2 years, the Government of Canada will publish a state of PFAS report, which will summarize relevant information on the class of PFAS.”1
This statement, published by a Swedish group of scientists, sums up the scope of the contamination: “Although PFAS are globally present in all environmental media and locations, there are still some areas of the planet where the environmental levels of PFAS remain relatively low. However, even in these remote and sparsely populated regions, such as Antarctica and the Tibetan plateau, the most stringent PFAS guidelines are exceeded.”2
PFAS are not natural contaminants. They are human made.
Health Canada has issued maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) levels of .0006 mg/L for PFOS and 0.0002 mg/L for PFOA. There are screening values in Canada for PFBA, PFBS, PFHxS, PFPeA, PFHxA or PFNA all of which are classes of PFAS. These are just 8 of the over 4700 known PFAS to be found in water sources.
Identified Health Effects
PFOS and PFOA have been associated with high cholesterol, hormone disruption, immunity disorders, thyroid conditions, liver and kidney issues, and pregnancy complications. Some evidence has been published regarding the link to PFAS and testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancers. PFOA is classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
When PFAS contained in disposed garbage are incinerated in municipal household waste burning processes, emissions can be emitted which travel through the air and result in them being deposited in another location entirely. Therefore the incineration of waste materials can result in leaching of PFAS into water supplies or transfer widely over great distances. The temperature required to destroy the PFAS compound is 1100 degrees Celsius, which is not achieved at the normal temperature household waste is burned at. Only a selected few facilities in Canada are able to achieve this temperature requirement.
Activities like bathing, washing dishes, brushing your teeth, showering, or doing laundry do not transfer PFAS as they do not transfer from the affected water. They are not absorbed through the skin and cannot be inhaled from a water source. The common practice of boiling the water will not remove PFAS.
Best Practice Recommendation
Not all treatment equipment removes PFAS from water. It is commonly accepted that granular activated carbon filters or reverse osmosis systems will treat the water for PFAS removal to below the MAC levels in Canada when applied correctly. Consult a water treatment professional for recommendations on the proper equipment to treat the water within your home.
Volume 6 - Issue 5 Wahl H2O - Water Awareness
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