• How Do PFAS Affect Drinking Water?

Water/Wastewater

How Do PFAS Affect Drinking Water?

Sep 24 2021

In recent years, there has been a growing level of concern among the public healthcare community over the prevalence of PFAS. More commonly known as “forever chemicals”, these are a group of substances which do not degrade in the environment and, as a result, can accumulate over time to infiltrate all manner of locations – including drinking water supplies.

The fact that the incredible longevity and potentially harmful effects of PFAS are relatively new discoveries means that their use (or, perhaps more accurately termed, their restriction) is not yet fully legislated for in national and international laws. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that PFAS could have a damaging effect on human health, especially among the female population.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS or forever chemicals, are a category of some 4,700 chemicals which have been developed by various industries to meet a number of different purposes. Their unique properties have been used to make clothing water-resistant, cookware non-stick and surfaces able to withstand staining. They are also used in other, more complicated applications, such as in firefighter foam, oil recovery apparatus and food processing machinery.

However, the fact that PFAS are a completely manmade substance, and the unique combination of polymers which comprise their structure, means that they do not break down for 1,000 years or more. In fact, there are some PFAS for which scientists still have no half-life, meaning they aren’t sure when they will degrade! For that reason, PFAS have now become prevalent all over the world, including in drinking water supplies across the United States and beyond.

What are the health impacts of PFAS?

Although research into the deleterious effects of exposure to PFAS is still ongoing, the findings from preliminary studies are not encouraging. To date, these chemicals have been linked with a wide range of concerning health implications, including testicular and kidney cancers, thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and more.

However, it’s the reproductive system of the female population which may be most at risk from imbibing PFAS. Studies show that high levels of PFAS in a drinking water supply increase the chance of contracting polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and potentially uterine fibroids (UFs). Most concerning of all, a recent piece of research from the US concluded that pregnant women who were exposed to PFAS were between 80% and 120% more likely to suffer a miscarriage.

Limiting exposure

Obviously, the alarming statistics uncovered by those studies has had the scientific community scrambling to learn more about these potentially life-changing chemicals. An upcoming talk on the subject, titled Latest approaches to PFAS analysis, is guaranteed to provide interesting and up-to-date information for those keen to learn more.

In the meantime, it falls to water companies to rigorously test their supplies to ensure that PFAS levels are kept to a minimum. While the legislation has not yet caught up with the dangers at hand, adopting a responsible attitude towards containing these dangerous toxins is the best strategy for mitigating its adverse impacts on human health.


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