Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water

From 2013 to 2015, EPA evaluated the occurrence of PFOA, PFOS, and four other PFAS compounds at 4,920 public water systems (i.e., waterworks) across the U.S. as part of its “Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule” (UCMR 3) evaluation.  The data did not reveal significant occurrences of PFOA or PFOS in Virginia; however, UCMR 3 had reporting limits of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) and 40 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS, respectively.  Two Virginia waterworks detected PFAS compounds, but follow-up sampling did not identify the source or an impact on drinking water supplies.  Nationwide, EPA found 1.6% of samples had the presence of one or more PFAS at 4.0% of waterworks. On May 16, 2016, EPA issued a Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ppt for combined PFOA and PFOS and on February 20, 2020, EPA announced its proposed decision to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.  EPA accepted public comments on its regulatory determination through June 10, 2020.  Since PFAS are not a regulated contaminant, there is scant monitoring data of PFAS occurrence in Virginia’s waterworks.

On February, 22, 2021, EPA reissued final regulatory determinations for contaminants on the fourth Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 4). EPA is making final determinations to regulate two contaminants, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in drinking water and to not regulate six contaminants (i.e., 1,1-dichloroethane, acetochlor, methyl bromide (bromomethane), metolachlor, nitrobenzene, and RDX). With the final Regulatory Determinations for PFOA and PFOS, EPA will move forward to implement the national primary drinking water regulation development process for these two PFAS. The Regulatory Determinations also outline avenues that the agency is considering to further evaluate additional PFAS chemicals and provide flexibility for the agency to consider groups of PFAS as supported by the best available science.

Announcement of Final Regulatory Determinations for Contaminants on the Fourth Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List is available here. More information on the Regulatory Determination 4 is available at https://www.epa.gov/ccl/regulatory-determination-4.

PFAS are man-made, industrially produced compounds.  Production of these chemicals began in the 1940s and there are now more than 4,000 different chemicals in the PFAS family.  A wide variety of products, including stain-resistant fabric coatings, non-stick coatings (Teflon), food packaging, and firefighting foam contain PFAS.  PFOA and PFOS are two of the most extensively produced and studied of the chemicals in the PFAS family. PFAS are classified as contaminants of emerging concern, meaning that research into the harm they may cause to human health is still ongoing. The most commonly studied PFAS are perfuorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).
PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS do not break down in the environment.  Exposure to humans can occur by eating, inhaling, or even touching the product.  EPA reports that scientists have found traces of one or more PFAS in the blood of nearly all the people they tested.  Possible health effects associated with exposure to chemicals in the PFAS family include developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).
PFAS can enter drinking water at sites where they are made, used, disposed of, or spilled. PFAS can be found in the air near manufacturing facilities and can enter rainwater. PFAS are very mobile and can be transported through rainwater run-off and enter surface water (lakes, ponds, etc.) or seep through the soil and migrate into ground water (underground sources of drinking water). Because PFAS are very long-lasting and are not easily broken down by sunlight or other natural processes, they may remain in the environment for many years.
If a public water system or your private well gets its water from a surface or ground water source that is contaminated with PFAS, and the water is not properly treated to remove the PFAS, the chemicals may be in your drinking water and can pass into your body when you ingest (drink or eat food cooked in) them.
If you receive a water bill, your water comes from a public water supply. If you do not pay for your water, but you live in a rented apartment, manufactured home park or other similar community you may still receive water from a public water supply. Inquire with the property manager about your water source. If your water does not come from a public water supply, it comes from a private water system. Private water system sources include:
  • Well
  • Rainwater Cistern
  • Spring
  • Pond
  • Hauled Water
Virginia Department of Health Office of Drinking Water regulates public water systems, which provide water for human consumption to at least 15 service connections or serves an average of at least 25 people for at least 60 days each year. This includes water used for drinking, food preparation, bathing, showering, tooth brushing, and dishwashing. Public water systems range in size from large municipalities to small churches and restaurants relying on a single well.
  • Community water systems serve at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents or regularly serve at least 25 year-round residents. Examples include cities, mobile home parks and nursing homes.
  • Non-transient, non-community systems serve at least 25 of the same persons over six months per year. Examples include schools, hospitals and factories.
  For more information about these systems, please go to Virginia Drinking Water Watch
A person will not be able to see, smell, or taste PFAS in his or her drinking water. Analysis of a water sample at a laboratory certified to test for PFAS is the only way to show whether drinking water has been contaminated with PFAS.
It is important to keep in mind that exposure to PFAS does not always mean a person will have health effects. Whether or not a person gets sick from exposure to PFAS depends on how long a person was exposed (duration), how often they were exposed (frequency), and how much PFAS they were exposed to (dose). Personal factors like age, lifestyle, and other illnesses may also determine whether or not a person gets sick from exposure to PFAS. There are many chemicals in the PFAS family, and they may cause different health effects if you are exposed to them. The health effects of PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA have been more widely studied than other chemicals in the PFAS family. Some, but not all, studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:
  • Affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and children;
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant;
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones;
  • Increase cholesterol levels;
  • Affect the immune system; or
  • Increase the risk of certain cancers.
Scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of PFAS. For the most part, laboratory animals exposed to high doses of one or more PFAS have shown changes in liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function, as well as some changes in hormone levels. Because animals and humans process these chemicals differently, more research will help scientists fully understand how PFAS affect human health.
Completely stopping exposure to PFAS is not practical because they are so common and present throughout the world. PFAS exposure through drinking water can be reduced by treating the water using reverse osmosis or certified carbon filtration units, or by using an alternative source of water that is not contaminated.
In general, dermal contact with water is not a health concern because PFAS are not readily absorbed through the skin. Using water that contains PFAS for showering, bathing, laundry, or household cleaning is generally safe.
Because many household products like carpeting and upholstery contain PFAS, ingestion of household dust can also be a route of exposure, especially for infants and young children through hand to mouth contact. Dust household surfaces regularly to lower the amount of dust in the house.
PFAS are also present in many consumer products. Learning about the presence of PFAS in consumer products and avoiding or limiting exposure to these products can help reduce PFAS exposures.
You can visit VDH Office of Drinking Water PFAS webpage for more details. If you want to participate or have any suggestions or comments, please contact Tony Singh (Deputy Director - ODW) at Tony.Singh@vdh.virginia.gov

House Bill (HB) 586, 2020 Acts of Assembly Chapter 611, requires the State Health Commissioner to convene a workgroup to study the occurrence of six specific PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorobutyrate (PFBA), perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and other PFAS, as deemed necessary, that may be present in drinking water from waterworks, identify possible sources of such contamination, and evaluate approaches to regulating PFAS.  The PFAS Workgroup may recommend maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for inclusion in regulations of the Board of Health applicable to waterworks.

The legislation requires the workgroup to “determine current levels of PFOA, PFOS, PFBA, PFHpA, PFHxS, PFNA, and other PFAS, as deemed necessary, contamination in the Commonwealth’s public drinking water, provided that in making such determination of current levels, the Department of Health shall sample no more than 50 representative waterworks and major sources of water[.]”  As this refers specifically to “public drinking water” and “waterworks,” the workgroup’s efforts will focus on “water supplies” and “waterworks,” as those terms are defined in the Public Water Supplies Law, Code of Virginia§ 32.1-167, and Waterworks Regulations, 12VAC5-590-10.[1] The PFAS Workgroup must report its findings to the Governor and legislative committees by December 1, 2021. HB1257, 2020 Acts of Assembly Chapter 1097, directs the Board of Health to adopt regulations establishing MCLs for PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS as it deems necessary; hence, the PFAS Workgroup’s recommendations for MCLs is a critical objective.

 

PFAS Workgroup Members Updated October 19, 2020
Category Name Organization
1 Community Waterworks serving > 50,000 consumers Chris Harbin/Jillian Terhune Norfolk Department of Public Utilities
2 Community Waterworks serving > 50,000 consumers David Jurgen City of Chesapeake Department of Public Utilities
3 Community Waterworks serving > 50,000 consumers Jamie Bain Hedges DGM., Fairfax Water
4 Community Waterworks service > 50,000 consumers Mike Hotaling Newport News
5 Community Waterorks serving > 50,000 consumers Michael McEvoy Western Virginia Water Authority (Roanoke Area)
6 Community Waterworks serving ˃ 50,000 consumers Jessica Edwards-Brandt Loudoun Water
7 Community Waterworks service > 50,000 consumers (Advocacy Group That Represents Waterworks) Russ Navratil/Geneva Hudgins VW AWWA/Henrico County
8 Community Waterworks serving 50,000 consumers (Private Company) Christian Volk Virginia American Water
9 Community Waterworks serving < 50,000 consumers (Private Company) John J. Aulbach/Dan Hingley Aqua Virginia
10 Community Waterworks serving < 50,000 consumers Mark Estes Halifax County PSA
11 Community Waterworks serving < 1,000 consumers Wendy Eikenberry Augusta County Service Authority
12 Advocacy Group that represents Waterworks Andrea W. Wortzel Mission H2O
13 Advocacy Group that represents Waterworks Steve Herzog/Paul Nyffler Virginia Water Environment Association
14 Manufacturer with Chemical Experience Stephen P. Risotto Henry Bryndza American Chemistry Council
15 Environmental Organization Anna Killius James River Association
16 Environmental Organization Phillip Musegaas Potomac Riverkeeper Network
17 Environmental Organization Michael Town Christopher Leyen Virginia League of Conservation Voters
18 VDEQ Representative Jeff Steers Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
19 Consumer of Public Drinking Water Dr. William Mann Commonwealth Citizen
20 VDH ODW Staff -Technical Expert Robert Edelman Director of Technical Services
21 Virginia State Toxicologist Dwight Flammia State Toxicologist
22 VDH Local Health Department Noelle Bissell Director, New River Health District
23 VDH ODW Staff Dan Horne SEVFO Director
24 Facilitator Dwayne Roadcap/Nelson Daniel VDH Director, Office of Drinking Water
25 Organizer / Chair Tony Singh VDH Deputy Director, Office of Drinking Water

 

VA PFAS Meetings:

VA PFAS Workgroup and sub group meeting agenda, minutes and recordings are available here:

Virginia PFAS Workgroup Meeting

October 20, 2020 January 19, 2021 March 04 2021 April 2021 July 2021 October 2021
Meeting Agenda & Meeting minutes Click Here Click Here Agenda

Minutes

Agenda

Minutes

Click Here Click Here
Meeting recording Click Here Click Here Click Here Recording-04/29/21 Recording Recording

 

Subgrouproup Meetings:

PFAS Subgroup Name & Date Health & Toxicology Occurence & Monitoring Policy & Regulations Treatment Technologies
December 2020 MeetingAgenda & Meeting Minutes
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January 2021 MeetingAgenda & Meeting Minutes
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February 2021 MeetingAgenda & Meeting Minutes
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May 2021 Meeting Agenda & Meeting Minutes

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June 2021 Meeting Agenda & Meeting Minutes

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The Workgroup is in the process of designing a PFAS Sampling & Monitoring study in Virginia drinking water. Per HB586, no more than 50 waterworks and/or water sources will be covered under this sampling event. Selection of such waterworks and water sources will be based on two major criteria i.e. protecting public health, and maximum risk reduction.

Sample Training Webinar slides from April 14, 2021:  Sampling for PFAS & What to Expect after Sampling

Below is the VA PFAS Sampling Training Video.

 

PFAS may enter a person’s body when they drink water or eat food that has been contaminated with PFAS. Unborn babies may be exposed to PFAS if their mother ingests PFAS while she is pregnant, and babies may be exposed through breastmilk. Inhalation of PFAS contaminated water can be a source of industrial exposures for employees (see the Business and Employee Exposure section below). PFAS are also present in many consumer products. Studies in humans and animals show that there may be negative health effects from exposure to certain PFAS. Completely stopping exposure to PFAS is not practical, because they are so common and present throughout the world.

 

HEALTH EFFECTS OF EXPOSURE TO PFAS

It is important to keep in mind that exposure to PFAS does not always mean a person will have health effects. Whether or not a person gets sick from exposure to PFAS depends on how long a person was exposed (duration), how often they were exposed (frequency), and how much PFAS they were exposed to (dose). Personal factors like age, lifestyle, and other illnesses may also determine whether or not a person gets sick from exposure to PFAS.

There are many chemicals in the PFAS family, and they may cause different health effects if you are exposed to them. The health effects of PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA have been more widely studied than other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Some, but not all, studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:

  • Affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and children;
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant;
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones;
  • Increase cholesterol levels;
  • Affect the immune system; or
  • Increase the risk of certain cancers.

Scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of PFAS.

For the most part, laboratory animals exposed to high doses of one or more of these PFAS have shown changes in liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function, as well as some changes in hormone levels. Because animals and humans process these chemicals differently, more research will help scientists fully understand how PFAS affect human health.

The available data suggest that PFAS are not metabolized nor do they undergo chemical reactions in the body. Perfluoroalkyls are primarily excreted in the urine. There are substantial differences in the time it takes for PFAS to be eliminated from the human body and animal species. The estimated time to reduce PFAS in the human body by 50% is 2.1-8.5 years for PFOA, 3.1-7.4 years for PFOS, 4.7-15 years for PFHxS, and 2.5-4.3 years for PFNA. Much shorter timeframes for elimination have been estimated in experimental animals.

 

WAYS TO REDUCE EXPOSURE TO PFAS

Because PFAS are so widespread in the environment, it is difficult to avoid all exposure to PFAS chemicals. You may be able to reduce your exposure by avoiding water that is known to be contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

If PFAS are present in drinking water, filtering the water or using an alternative source can reduce exposure to PFAS.

PFAS are present in many consumer products. Be an informed consumer and research if manufacturers are using PFAS in packaging or the manufacture of products (i.e. clothing, carpet). If you want to reduce your family’s exposure, consider limiting the use of household products that were made using chemicals in the PFAS family.

Some of these products include:

  • Nonstick cookware, like pots and pans
  • Furniture and carpet that is stain-resistant
  • Clothing treated with water, stain, or dirt repellant
  • Non-stick food packaging, like French fry cartons, microwave popcorn bags, and pizza boxes
  • Makeup and other personal care products that have ingredients with “fluoro” or “perfluoro” in the name

Note: not all non-stick coatings are PFAS-based.

The federal Food and Drug Administration provides additional information on PFAS in food and food packaging at: fda.gov/food/chemicals/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas.

 

PREGNANT AND NURSING WOMEN

Pregnant and nursing women may be more susceptible than the general population to the health effects of PFAS. As a precautionary measure, pregnant and nursing women may want to consider treating their water source to remove the type of PFAS present or use an alternate water source for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth and preparing food. Women who are planning to become pregnant may wish to take steps to reduce their exposure to PFAS, due to the slow elimination of PFAS from the human body.

Unborn babies may be exposed to PFAS through their umbilical cordre blood if their mother ingests PFAS before and while she is pregnant, and babies may be exposed through breastmilk. Research suggests that fetuses and infants are more vulnerable to exposure to PFAS. Long-term exposure to PFOA, PFOS, and PFHxS leads to a buildup of these chemicals in women of child-bearing age that results in more exposure to the fetus and breastfed infants. Breastfeeding provides many health benefits to both a mother and infant. VDH recommends that women currently breastfeeding, and pregnant women who plan to breastfeed, continue to do so. For information about , see the VDH breastfeeding webpage

Bottle-fed infants are also of concern because they drink more water per body weight than adults. If you are concerned about exposure through bottle feeding, consider using an alternative water source or filtered drinking water for making formula. This can lower exposure to PFAS for your infant.

Please consult with your healthcare provider with any concerns.

 

CHILDREN

Children have different exposure circumstances that make them especially sensitive to environmental contaminants, like PFAS. Understanding these differences is key for evaluating potential for environmental hazards from pollutants. Children consume more of certain foods and water relative to body weight than adults. That means the same glass of water with the same PFAS concentration level results in greater exposure to a child versus an adult, even though they are drinking the same amount. Children also do not excrete chemicals as easily as adults, because the enzymes in their bodies that break down contaminants are still developing. That increases the chances for contaminants such as PFAS to interfere with a child’s growth and development. In addition, young children tend to play close to the ground and come into contact with contaminated soil outdoors. To ensure the protection of children and other sensitive populations, the Ohio PFAS Action Levels are set to protect the most sensitive populations, thereby protecting the health of all populations in Ohio.

 

HOUSEHOLD PETS

Since many household pets are smaller than people, they also consume more of certain foods and water relative to their body weight than people. That means that the same bowl of water with the same PFAS concentration results in greater exposure to household pets, even though they may be drinking the same amount. As a precaution, if you have elevated levels of PFAS in your water, you should consider using alternative water for your household pets.

 

TESTING YOUR BLOOD FOR PFAS

While a PFAS blood test measures how much of specific PFAS are in a person’s body at the time of the test, there are limitations. A PFAS blood test cannot:

  • Tell you where or how you were exposed to PFAS found in your body;
  • Tell you what, if any, health problems might occur or have occurred because of PFAS in your body; or
  • Be used by your doctor to guide treatment decisions.

Measuring a person’s exposure to PFAS and monitoring potential impacts on human health is best addressed through consultation with a physician. VDH has and will continue to provide information and recommendations to healthcare providers to help providers and patients make informed decisions about what PFAS exposure might mean for an individual’s health. There is no recommendation from VDH or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that clinicians should test patients for PFAS. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns regarding PFAS exposure.

 

PFAS Testing for Individuals 

VDH does not generally recommend testing your blood for PFAS. Physicians will not be able to treat a specific health issue using the result from this test. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns regarding PFAS exposure.

A blood test for PFAS can tell you what your levels are at the time the blood was drawn, but not whether levels in your body are “safe” or “unsafe.”

  • Most people in the U.S. have measurable amounts of PFAS in their body because PFAS are commonly used in commercial and industrial products.
  • The PFAS blood test is not a clinical test and cannot tell you whether your health has been or will be affected.
  • Many health issues associated with PFAS, such as increased cholesterol and decreased thyroid hormone levels, commonly occur in the population as a whole – even when not associated with high levels of PFAS in the blood.
    • These health issues can be caused by many factors, and there is no way to know or predict if PFAS exposure has or will cause your health problem.
    • If you have specific health concerns, please consult your doctor for the best treatment choices for you.
  • It is complicated to get a PFAS blood test.
    • It is not a routine clinical test, so you would need to contact a private lab directly to arrange the test and it is unlikely that insurance would cover the cost.
    • There are hundreds of PFAS around us. Labs can only test for a small number of PFAS in blood.

 

Laboratories that Offer PFAS Testing 

VDH does not recommend specific labs and does not know specifics regarding the different tests they offer. The cost for PFAS blood testing is in the $500-800 range, not including fees that a clinic might charge for drawing and shipping the blood.

 

What you can do with your test results 

You can compare your levels to those in groups of people nationwide. The National Biomonitoring Program by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tests a very large group of people for PFAS and other chemicals and tells us about average exposures in the U.S. population. These studies can be used to compare your blood test result to what is known about levels in people throughout the country.

 

HOME TREATMENT OPTIONS

Water treatment in a home to reduce levels of PFAS can be:

  • At the point of entry (POE) where treatment all of the water entering the household plumbing system occurs, or;
  • At the point of use (POU) which is often at the kitchen sink or primary source of water for drinking or cooking (potentially also including a water line to the refrigerator if it has a plumbed in water line).

Either type of water treatment has pros and cons that should be considered before selecting the best treatment option for a home. The type of treatment system chosen should consider the volume of water that will be used in the home, the number and location of sites where water is consumed in the home, and the type of PFAS chemical identified in the laboratory result.

If water for drinking, cooking and making ice is primarily obtained from the kitchen sink, then the installation of a treatment unit below the sink or on the sink faucet is an option. If drinking water and ice are obtained from the refrigerator, then it is important to consider treating the water line to the refrigerator also.

If drinking water is obtained from multiple locations in a home, then a point of entry, or whole house treatment system may be preferred.

If possible, it is important to choose a treatment system that has been tested and certified to remove the PFAS present in the water based on data provided from the public water system provider or from a laboratory analysis.

For more information, please contact:

 

Christine O. Latino

Executive Assistant,

VDH - Office of Drinking Water

109 Governor Street, 6th Floor, Richmond, Virginia 23219

Phone: (804) 864-7372;  Fax: (804) 864-7521

Email: Christine.Latino@vdh.virginia.gov

 

Tony S. Singh, PhD, PE, BCEE, CSP

Deputy Office Director, VDH Office of Drinking Water

Phone: (804) 864-7517

 

Dwayne Roadcap

Office Director, VDH Office of Drinking Water

Phone: (804) 864-7522