News Releases

WQA responds to new Harvard study on PFOA and PFOS

Drinking water supplies for six million Americans exceed US EPA health advisory

For Immediate Release - August 9, 2016
Contact: Wes Bleed, Director of Marketing & Communications
(630)505-0160 ext. 693, wbleed@wqa.org

LISLE, Illinois – The Water Quality Association responded today to a study Harvard researchers conducted finding as many as six million Americans may be at risk of exposure to higher than recommended levels of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS).

“This study emphasizes human exposure to unregulated substances with health risks,” said WQA Deputy Executive Director Pauli Undesser. “It is important for consumers to know that public water systems are not required to test and monitor for PFOA and PFOS."

The study analyzed data from 2013 to 2015. A number of regions across the country reported elevated PFOA and PFOS concentrations in drinking water, according to the report. Highest concentrations were near industrial sites as well as many civilian airports and military fire training sites using aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs). In addition, wastewater treatment plants are a source of PFAS because it is not removed by standard treatment methods.

In May, 2016, the EPA released a lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS to supersede the agency’s 2009 provisional advisory. Adverse health effects are not anticipated to occur over a lifetime of exposure to a concentration of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water at or below 70 ng/L. This is a non-regulatory non-enforceable advisory. According to the data used by Harvard, Washington, West Virginia reported PFOA concentrations up to 13,300 ng/L in drinking water which is 190-fold higher than the lifetime health advisory.

What are PFOA and PFOS?

PFOA and PFOS are perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)s and are not found naturally in the environment. They have been used in varies capacities such as waterproof materials, paper packaging, fabrics, grease and stain resistant products, and firefighting foam. Sources of exposure can include food, contaminated air and drinking water.

Studies have found PFOA and PFOS in the blood samples of the general human population and wildlife nationwide, indicating exposure to the chemical is widespread. Studies also indicate that continued exposure to low levels of PFOA in drinking water may result in adverse health effects.

Testing and treatment options

WQA recommends homeowners have their water tested by a water treatment professional or certified lab. Water treatment professionals can be found using WQA's Find Water Treatment Providers tool. In 2008, Minnesota Department of Public Health released a study looking specifically at evaluating treatment devices for PFAS removal. The evaluation can be found here.

WQA recommends treatment products that have been certified for PFAS removal. Consumers can visit WQA’s product certification listings to search WQA’s database of certified products and professionals.