Researchers and environmentalists have cautioned consumers against the harmful side effects of ingesting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of synthetic chemicals that have found their way into the environment including into groundwater. 

In recent years PFAS have reached toxic levels in the drinking water of communities across the United States.

With repeated exposure to PFAS above certain levels, the human body retains them for years—leading PFAS to be nicknamed “forever chemicals.” According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health effects from PFAS include growth, learning, and behavioral issues in infants and older children, decreased female fertility, increased cancer risk, interference with natural hormone levels and immune system impacts.

Residents within affected communities, also known as stakeholders, have voiced concern regarding actionable ways to keep their families safe. 

Responding to stakeholder concerns expressed through recent engagements, in February the Environment Protection Agency published an action plan for protecting human health by limiting potentially harmful levels of human exposure to PFAS. The action plan “describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, approaches to addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS.” 

The EPA plans to partner with other federal agencies, states, tribes and local communities to accomplish the agency’s goals.

“PFAS aren’t completely avoidable, but there are steps people can take,” Matt Schroeder, senior environmental engineer at Dragun Corporation Environmental Advisors in Michigan, told MedTruth. Schroeder recommends certain vigilant efforts to avoid exposure to PFAS. 

Research Geographic Location

Airports and military installations using PFAS-containing firefighting foams and PFAS manufacturing facilities are some of the contributors to chemical releases into the air, soil and water.

“The way people are being exposed to higher concentrations of [PFAS] is generally related to geographic proximity to either a source of a chemical manufacturer, a company that created the PFAS itself or uses that product in their processes,” said Schroeder. “For example, a carpet manufacturer might put it in their product to make it stain resistant.” 

Schroeder advises that families research the closest industrial manufacturing plants to their sources of water and then find out if those plants produce or use PFAS. If geographically located within close proximity to a manufacturer with known use of PFAS, Schroeder said the consumer should go through the health department in their city to get their tap water tested. 

Be Aware of Toxic Consumer Products 

In July, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued an advisory warning citing possible PFAS exposure from Spring Hill Farm Dairy bottled water in Haverhill, Massachusetts, according to Consumer Reports. The level of PFAS was found to be higher than recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and for bottle-fed infants. Bottled water brands such as Whole Foods’ 365 Spring Water, Acadia Spring Water, and Ice Canyon Spring Water are bottled and distributed by Spring Hill. How many units were affected is unclear.

According to Schroeder, PFAS exists in many everyday tools. Teflon pans, carpets, non-stick clothing, car seats, and fast food wrappers often have a protective coat made of PFAS. Even items we use on our bodies such as sunscreen, dental floss, and cosmetic products contain PFAS. Hand-to-mouth transfer from treated textiles and upholstery are also significant sources of ingestion, particularly for children.

“I have young kids and I picture them crawling around on carpets. You know they’re getting some exposure when they’re down there,” Schroeder said. 

Scientists have connected a complete pathway from animal products to consumers. New research shows levels of PFAS in seafood from contaminated bodies of water may present a significant hazard. Other connections in the dairy industry have surfaced―if a cow consumes water with toxic levels of PFAS, the chemical exists in the milk that people receive from the cow. The same pathway can hold true from breastfeeding mothers to their infants. 

Make Your Own Action Plan  

According to an EPA statement, citizens concerned about their drinking water should contact the local water utility. People who own private wells should consider well testing to determine the presence of PFAS in the drinking water. 

If you find PFAS in your drinking water, some of these chemicals can be reduced or removed through the use of in-home point-of-use or point-of-entry water filters. It is important to keep in mind that any in-home water treatment device should be certified by an independent party and should be properly maintained to ensure that the treatment system remains effective over time. 

The filters use carbon or reverse osmosis to remove PFAS from the water at the tap. Many communities that have widespread toxicity have filters readily available for use. 

PFAS tests are available to consumers but are expensive. Most PFAS testing facilities are outside local city governments, creating a costly process to obtain results. It’s difficult to get tap water tested unless it’s within a city that’s experiencing contamination and has allocated testing for it, Schroeder said.