PFAS explained: FAQs on manmade chemicals

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The Start Of Something Delicious

Read these common questions and FAQs on PFAS, manmade chemicals that repel oil and water, and your role in helping prevent PFAS pollution.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade compounds that are resistant to heat, water and oil. PFAS are found in a wide range of products and are often called “forever chemicals” because once they enter the environment, they are difficult to effectively (and inexpensively) remove. 

Where do PFAS come from?

For more than 70 years, PFAS have been widely used – and have become especially problematic — from sources like firefighting foam, chrome plating, industrial manufacturers of products that contain PFAS. But consumers also contribute to PFAS levels. Some familiar products that contain PFAS include clothing, paint, non-stick cookware, carpeting, cosmetics, lubricants, dental floss and more.

Are wastewater treatment plants the source?

No. Wastewater treatment plants are the receivers of the chemicals used by manufacturers and consumers. Treatment plants don’t have the capability to remove the compounds during the wastewater treatment process.

Where are PFAS found?

PFAS are abundant in our society. They are present throughout the environment, in our homes and our food. There are background levels of PFAS compounds in household dust, human blood, national forests and even in remote areas of the Earth. 

How much PFAS is out there?

Background levels of PFAS are currently detectable in the parts per billion (ppb) and parts per trillion (ppt) ranges. To put that in perspective, parts per billion is equivalent to a 1/2 teaspoon of water in an Olympic-size pool. Parts per trillions is like measuring a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-size pools.

Recent voluntary phase-outs by U.S. manufacturers have been helping keep PFAS levels to a minimum.

What’s the most common kind of PFAS?

There are more than 5,000 compounds in the PFAS family, and there is still much to learn about them. However, PFOA and PFOS are the two most common and have been relatively well studied. 

What’s the local impact?

In reviewing our service area, the District has no known original industrial manufacturers or users of PFAS that would potentially discharge high concentrations of PFAS to the treatment plant. That’s at least a little bit of relief.

What can be done about PFAS?

The most efficient way to address PFAS is to look to source reduction and elimination and producer responsibility. Cleanup of highly contaminated sites is another effective strategy.

What is the District doing to help?

We’ve developed a comprehensive sampling and analysis plan of our incoming (influent) wastewater, outgoing (effluent) treated water, biosolids and other treatment materials. The first phase of our testing results has been favorable. 

The District is also committed to source reduction. We are currently creating a plan to work with industrial permittees and businesses on PFAS education, identification and use reduction or substitution.

How can I avoid PFAS in my home faucets?

Check your utility’s annual water quality report to see if your PFAS levels exceed the EPA’s advisory level. If you have high levels of PFAS chemicals, consider installing reverse-osmosis filters as they are the most effective at filtering PFAS out. Carbon filters are also effective but less so than reverse osmosis.

Are there any consumer products to avoid?

You can avoid using grease-resistant packaging. For example, fast-food packaging and microwave popcorn bags often contain PFAS chemicals. 

Consider replacing any non-stick cookware with stainless steel, cast-iron, glass or ceramic alternatives.

Unless necessary, avoid waterproof, water-resistant and stain-resistant products. The Green Science Policy Institute offers a helpful list of PFAS-free outdoor gear, apparel and other products. 

More FAQs on PFAS?

You can find more FAQs on PFAS, learn more about PFAS and ways we can all do our part to prevent PFAS pollution on the District’s PFAS Initiative microsite.