The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning that PFOA and PFOS - two nonstick and stain-resistant compounds found in drinking water - pose even greater health risks than previously studied, at levels so low they cannot currently be detected. The toxic compounds are associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight. Yesterday the EPA issued nonbinding health advisories that set health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS to near zero, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion.
PFOA and PFOS are members of the group of toxic chemicals commonly known as PFAS
PFAS are a group of toxic chemicals known as “forever chemicals” that have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS are two members of this group. The EPA has found that these chemicals can cause health effects such as:
Cancer (including testicular cancer)
PFOA and PFOS are different because they have slightly different molecules at their ends.
What are PFOA and PFOS?
PFOA, also known as perfluorooctanoic acid and C8, is a chemical used in non-stick cookware and other products. It’s related to PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), the chemical that recently led to a massive water contamination crisis near bases in Michigan.
Both chemicals are found in firefighting foam used by military bases, airports and other installations to put out oil fires. They’re also used in stain-resistant textiles and waterproof clothing — including raincoats and Gore-Tex jackets — as well as Teflon pans.
The EPA says PFOA has been linked to kidney cancer, thyroid disease and immunological disorders. The agency has determined that PFOS is "likely" carcinogenic to humans based on several studies showing an association between exposure and kidney cancer or testicular cancer 1
How do you know if your tap water has PFAS in it?
You can check your water with an at-home water test kit or by asking your local utility. The EPA has released recommendations for testing the presence of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water in several states:
What health risks are associated with PFOA and PFOS?
Cancer, reproductive problems, immune system problems, thyroid problems, and liver damage. These are just some of the health risks associated with PFOA.
Problems in children and fetuses. Researchers have found that high levels of PFOS can cause developmental delays in children whose mothers were exposed while pregnant to the chemical.
Problems for pets, livestock and wildlife. PFAS chemicals can be passed from animals through their milk or meat products to humans who eat them; this happens because these chemicals accumulate in fat tissue over time.
Problems for workers at plants where PFOA is manufactured or used; also people who live near these plants may be exposed from breathing dust particles containing PFOA on windy days when wastewater from these facilities is sprayed onto fields nearby.
Where are the highest levels of PFAS found in drinking water?
The EPA has found that PFAS chemicals are widely distributed in the environment, including drinking water. In fact, PFAS chemicals have been detected in more than 200 sites across the U.S., affecting communities in all 50 states (and Puerto Rico).
The EPA reports that PFOA and PFOS have been detected at levels above health advisory levels in these locations:
Private wells across New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio
Public water systems in Michigan and West Virginia
Water treatment plants serving communities like Hoosick Falls, N.Y.; Warminster, Pa.; Cary Township near Pittsburgh; Wilmington DE and Fayetteville NC.
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PFOA and PFOS are two members of a much larger class of chemicals called PFAS. They may be found in our water supply, including drinking water and have been linked to serious health risks.
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