The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released an 852-page review of the health risks of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The study suggests that current health advisories for PFAS, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may not be strict enough to address serious public health risks.
Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)—also known as Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)—are a diverse group of manufactured compounds frequently used as surfactants in industrial, consumer, military, and firefighting applications across the United States, such as Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) firefighting products, textiles, carpeting, metal plating, paper food packaging, cleaning products, coating additives, and pesticides.
PFAS compounds exhibit distinctive chemical characteristics that make them stable in the environment and resistant to degradation, allowing them to bioaccumulate in soil, sediment, groundwater, and animal tissue over time. Two types of PFAS are particularly persistent: Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOS and PFOA are fully fluorinated organic compounds which happen to be the most commonly produced PFAS in the U.S. Both the U.S. EPA and the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) have identified various PFAS as having potential adverse effects on the environment and public health. For this reason, EPA included six PFAS compounds in round three of its Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3). Similarly, the State Board requested that operators of active landfills in the Santa Ana Region test for 18 various PFAS.
However, the CDC’s new comprehensive report on the health effects of PFAS suggests they may be more hazardous than previously thought. In fact, the CDC’s provisional risk level translates to 11 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 7 ppt for PFOS in drinking water using the EPA's 2016 health advisory methods and assumptions, according to water quality research scientist Dr. Laurel Schaider. These limits are considerably lower than the EPA’s current health advisory levels of 70 ppt for both compounds.
“Addressing [PFAS] is one of EPA’s top priorities and the agency is committed to continuing to participate in and contribute to a coordinated approach across the federal government,” said Peter Grevatt, Director of the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, in response to the CDC report. The EPA plans to develop a maximum contaminant level for certain types of PFAS in drinking water.