Q. What are PFAS?
A. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals used in many household products including nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon™), stain repellants (e.g., Scotchgard™), and waterproofing (e.g., GORE-TEX™). They are also used in industrial applications such as in firefighting foams and electronics production. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals which are also known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment. Two well-known PFAS chemicals are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). These were phased out of production in the United States and replaced by hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid (commonly known as GenX), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) and others. Additional information on PFAS from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be found at https://www.epa.gov/pfas or from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/pfas
Q. Where does PFAS come from?
A. PFAS can be found in nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon™), stain repellants (e.g., Scotchgard™), and waterproofing (e.g., GORETEX™). They are also used in industrial applications such as in firefighting foams and electronics production. Additional information on PFAS from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be found at https://www.epa.gov/pfas
Q: Can I still drink my tap water and use it to cook and bathe?
A: Yes. People do not need to stop drinking their water as current health advisories are based on a lifetime of exposure. However, the lower the levels of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk. It is important to understand there is not an immediate public health risk related to drinking tap water from Snake River Water District. However, there are certain higher risk groups that may want to reduce their exposure, such as children ages 0-5 years and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. These groups are more susceptible to health impacts from PFAS chemicals. Visit CDPHE’s website for more information: https://cdphe.colorado.gov/pfas-health
Tap water is safe for bathing, showering, brushing teeth, washing hands, watering yards, washing dishes, cleaning, and laundry. Per EPA, studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through skin.
Q. What can I do to limit exposure to PFAS? What actions can I take?
People can reduce their exposure from drinking water by using water treated by an in-home water treatment filter that is certified to lower the levels of PFAS or by using bottled water that has been treated with reverse osmosis for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula.
Using bottled water is an individual choice, but there are important concerns with bottled water. CDPHE cannot verify that all bottled water is below PFAS interim health advisories. Reverse osmosis is a treatment that removes PFAS. CDPHE recommends people who use bottled water choose a brand that has been treated with reverse osmosis and includes this language on the bottle. Additionally, bottled water does not contain fluoride to support oral health and creates solid waste and other environmental concerns. Boiling, freezing, or letting water stand does not reduce PFAS levels.
PFAS can be found in many consumer products. One way to reduce exposure is to think about what products you are buying and using.
- Buy products from companies who are committed to removing PFAS from their manufacturing.
- Be aware. Many companies are working to remove PFAS from their products; however, until the removal is complete, products including nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon™), stain repellants (e.g., Scotchgard™), and water proofing (e.g., GORE-TEX™) may have PFAS. PFAS are also found in certain types of dental floss, nail polish, facial moisturizers, eye make-up, and more.
- Avoid non-stick cookware that has PFAS. Consider using stainless steel or cast-iron pots and pans. When the coating on existing non-stick cookware shows signs of wear-and-tear, replace them with stainless steel or cast-iron cookware.
- There are many sources of PFAS in the environment, people may consider reducing exposure from other sources. Visit https://cdphe.colorado.gov/pfas-health to learn more.
There are many sources of PFAS in the environment, people may consider reducing exposure from other sources. Visit https://cdphe.colorado.gov/pfas-health to learn more. If you have specific health concerns related to PFAS exposure, talk to your doctor. An information sheet, “Talking to your health care provider about PFAS,” is available at https://bit.ly/PFAS-doctor.
Q. What are the current regulations for PFAS in drinking water?
A. The EPA released interim lifetime health advisories in June 2022 and proposed drinking water standards in March 2023 for PFOA and PFOS and four other PFAS contaminants. EPA has issued and revised the health advisories multiple times since 2009 as more information about PFAS becomes available. The EPA anticipates finalizing the drinking water standard by the end of 2023. The District is working closely with CDPHE on possible next steps to understand and evaluate this concern.
It is important to understand that drinking water limits and health advisories are not the same thing. Drinking water limits are enforceable, which means water systems must meet them. EPA sets drinking water limits as close to the level where no health impacts are expected, considering the ability to measure and treat chemicals, among other factors. Health advisories, on the other hand, are more narrowly focused on the potential health impacts and do not consider other aspects. Water systems are not required to meet health advisory levels, but instead use the technical information provided to help with decision making, which may include additional sampling, customer outreach, installation of treatment, or other actions. EPA is developing drinking water limits for PFOA and PFOS that are expected to be finalized by the end of 2023.
More information on the development of federal drinking water limits and health advisory levels is available from the EPA:
Q. How can PFAS impact a person’s health?
A. The current EPA health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are based on human studies in populations exposed to these chemicals. PFOA and PFOS can:
- Impact the immune system.
- Increase cholesterol.
- Decrease infant birth weight.
- Cause changes in liver function.
- Cause preeclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Cause effects on thyroid hormones.
- Increase the risk of kidney and testicular cancer (PFOA).
Health advisories are set to protect all people, including sensitive populations and life stages, from negative health impacts as a result of lifetime exposure to PFAS in drinking water. Children ages 0-5 years, and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding are more susceptible to health impacts from PFAS. Visit https://cdphe.colorado.gov/pfas-health for more information.
Q. How does PFAS enter the water supply?
PFAS can enter the environment from multiple sources and because they break down very slowly in the environment, PFAS can end up in the water sources that many communities rely on for drinking water. PFAS can contaminate drinking water when products containing them are spilled on the ground or spill into lakes and rivers. PFAS are easily transported large distances once they are in groundwater and from there PFAS can contaminate drinking water wells. PFAS in the air can also end up in rivers and lakes used for drinking water.
Q. How is Snake River Water District addressing PFAS in the water supply?
A. The District has partnered with CDPHE and hired engineering consultants to complete further testing, regulatory tracking, assess the feasibility of PFAS treatment, and look for potential funding opportunities to address PFAS. The District is moving forward with additional sampling and PFAS testing of individual source water wells beyond the sampling requirements of EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) program. This process will occur over the winter months of 2023/2024. The results of the upcoming sampling and a second round of required UCMR sampling will be posted on SnakeRiverWater.com.