PFAS

What are PFAS and where have they been used?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of chemicals in use since the 1950s to make a wide variety of stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick consumer products. Some examples include food packaging, outdoor clothing, and non-stick pans. PFAS also have many industrial uses because of their special properties. In Washington State, PFAS have been used in certain types of firefighting foams utilized by the U.S. military, local fire departments, and airports.

Uses of PFAS have changed over time because of health and environmental concerns. Some of the most common and best studied PFAS, such as PFOA and PFOS, have been removed from most products because of health and environmental concerns. However, they are often replaced with other types of PFAS.

Watch the video “What are PFAS?” from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to learn more.

Why are we concerned about PFAS?

PFAS are a public health concern because they:

PFAS have been discovered above recommended federal and state levels in the drinking water supplies of millions of Americans, including in Washington State. In humans, it can take many years for PFAS to leave our bodies. As a result, exposure to levels above recommended limits over time may lead to harmful health effects.

What are the health concerns with PFAS?

Scientists are still studying how PFAS affect people's health. Current public health recommendations to limit PFAS exposure are typically based on health effects in laboratory animals and findings from observational studies in humans that have been exposed to PFAS. Such studies suggest that higher exposure to certain PFAS may lead to:

Learn more:

How are people exposed to PFAS?

People are primarily exposed to PFAS by:

People can also be exposed by:

Learn more:

How can I reduce my exposure?

PFAS and Drinking Water

How do PFAS get into drinking water?

PFAS can get into drinking water if they are made, used, disposed of, or spilled near your water source. Because PFAS do not break down easily during natural processes, they may remain in water supplies for many years.

 

Landfills, firefighting foam, manufacturing, wastewater, and land applications are sources of PFAS in drinking water.

Copyrighted image used with permission from the PFAS Testing Network

Are there drinking water standards for PFAS?

PFAS are not yet regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act or other major U.S. environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in 2021 that it will develop enforceable drinking water standards for two of the most commonly detected PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). This process can take years to complete.

In 2016, EPA established a lifetime health advisory level (HAL) of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined in drinking water. The military has followed this federal health advisory at and near military bases in Washington State. Learn more about the EPA's Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS.

Some states have adopted their own public health advice and enforceable standards for PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS in drinking water and other sources. Learn more about the ITRC's basis of regulations for PFAS.

Does Washington State have PFAS drinking water standards?

The Washington State Board of Health completed rulemaking to regulate PFAS in Group A drinking water systems. The rule sets State Action Levels (SALs) for five PFAS.

What is a state action level (SAL)?

State toxicologists developed SALs to protect humans, including sensitive groups, from harmful health effects of drinking water with PFAS in the long-term.

Type of PFAS

SAL (parts per trillion)

PFOA

10

PFOS

15

PFNA

9

PFHxS

65

PFBS

345

 

The rule requires all community and nontransient-noncommunity public water systems to test for PFAS. Transient public water systems must test for PFAS if they are in an area of concern. Water systems that find PFAS in their supply are required to complete additional monitoring, and systems that exceed a State Action Level are required to notify all their customers. Community water systems that find PFAS must include test results in their annual water quality report.

This mandated testing will help:

How do I know if my drinking water contains PFAS?

Water testing is the only way to know for sure if PFAS are present.

Your drinking water may be at risk if it comes from a source near a site or drinking water source with known PFAS contamination, or a landfill.

If you get your water from a public water system, ask your water system if they have tested for PFAS. Many water systems in Washington have voluntarily tested for PFAS and many more will test under the 2021 Washington State Board of Health rule requiring public water systems to test for PFAS and share the results.

If you have a private well, you can test your water for PFAS. Ask your local government if PFAS have been discovered near your well. Being close to a contaminated site doesn't necessarily mean there are PFAS in your drinking water, but it may help you decide whether or not to test.

How do I test my water for PFAS?

Testing your water involves collecting a water sample and sending it to a laboratory that can measure PFAS in drinking water. If you choose to test your water, find a certified lab that can test for PFAS at Ecology's Lab Search page. Select the “Search by Method” button, enter “537.1” or “533” and then select “Search by Partial Method Name” for a list of labs.

Learn more about EPA's PFAS Drinking Water Laboratory Methods.

How do I remove PFAS from my drinking water?

Water treatment units that use granular activated carbon, ion exchange, or reverse osmosis can remove PFAS. Choose a treatment system that is certified by NSF International. It is important to install and maintain your treatment unit as directed by the manufacturer.

Learn how private well owners can test for PFAS from the National Ground Water Association.

Public Health Advice

How do I minimize my exposure to PFAS in drinking water?

If there are PFAS above a federal or state action level in your drinking water, you can reduce your exposure by using an alternative source of water. This includes bottled water or another source of drinking water. This is especially important for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding and formula-fed infants, as these groups drink more water per pound of body weight than most people. These groups are also in life stages where they may be especially sensitive to harmful health effects of PFAS.

Can I boil my water to get rid of PFAS?

No, you cannot boil PFAS out of water.

Does bottled water contain PFAS?

PFAS have been found in some brands of bottled water. The FDA has not put enforceable limits in place yet, but the bottled water industry responded by requiring its members to test their bottled water products annually for PFAS, and to limit PFAS in bottled water to 5 parts per trillion (ppt) for any one PFAS or 10 ppt for more than one PFAS. These limits are lower than the Washington State SALs and should protect human health.

Can I bathe if there are PFAS in my tap water?

Yes. Showering or bathing are not a significant source of PFAS exposure. If you are still concerned, you can reduce exposure by:

Can I wash my dishes and do laundry if there are PFAS in my tap water?

Yes. Doing laundry or washing dishes is not a significant source of PFAS exposure. If you are still concerned, you can reduce exposure by wearing rubber gloves while hand-washing dishes or clothing.

Should I still breastfeed my baby if there are PFAS in my tap water?

Yes. If PFAS are above health advisory levels in your drinking water, we recommend that you switch to an alternative source of drinking water and continue to breastfeed your baby. In Washington State, our health advisory levels were set specifically to protect breastfed infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that: “even though some environmental contaminants like PFAS pollutants pass to the infant through breast milk, the advantages of breastfeeding greatly outweigh the potential risks in nearly every circumstance.” Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about PFAS and breastfeeding.

Learn more about breastfeeding.

Should I have my blood tested for PFAS?

Many people who learn their drinking water contains or contained PFAS ask if they should get a blood test. This is a personal decision to make with your health care provider. Here's what the test can and can't tell you:

Learn more at PFAS Blood Testing, ATSDR.

Can I eat my home-raised fruits and vegetables if PFAS are in the irrigation water?

Limited data suggests that eating garden fruits and vegetables is not a significant source of PFAS exposure when garden water meets federal or state advisory levels for PFAS in drinking water. We're still learning about how plants in a home garden might take in PFAS when water levels of PFAS are higher.

In general, PFAS from soil or irrigation water can be absorbed through the roots of plants. Some types of PFAS tend to stay in the roots, while other types of PFAS more easily distribute to shoots, leaves, and fruits. Specific plants also vary in how much PFAS ends up in the edible portions.

If you are concerned, here are some ways to minimize exposure:

  • Wash or scrub all dirt off produce before eating to avoid swallowing soil. PFAS may be in soil particles.
  • Peel and wash root vegetables before eating.
  • Add clean compost to your garden soil. Increasing the organic content of your garden soil can reduce the amount of PFAS your plants pick up from the soil.
  • Use rainwater or install a filter to remove PFAS from garden irrigation water.

There are no current standards for allowable PFAS in commercial produce. If you raise and sell crops, contact the Washington State Department of Agriculture for their most updated guidance.

What about fish consumption advisories?

What Our State is Doing to Address PFAS Contamination

State Standards for PFAS in Drinking Water

The State Board of Health adopted standards for PFAS in Group A public drinking water systems in October 2021. To support this process, the Department of Health reviewed the most current science and recommended state action levels on five PFAS compounds to protect public health. The new rule also requires monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting, follow-up actions, and other associated requirements for PFAS. For more information go to our PFAS Rulemaking webpage.

Statewide Action Plan for PFAS

The Departments of Ecology and Health developed a statewide Chemical Action Plan (CAP) for PFAS to address human exposure and environmental contamination. The CAP was developed with broad stakeholder input. The CAP summarizes what we know about PFAS contamination in WA State and recommends actions to address contamination and human exposure. Recommendations include expanded testing and mitigation for PFAS in drinking water, further reduction of PFAS use in products that release PFAS into food, drinking water or the environment, and additional evaluation of PFAS in waste streams. Visit the Department of Ecology's website to learn more about this work.

State Ban on PFAS in Firefighting Foam

In 2018, the Washington State legislature restricted the use of PFAS in firefighting foam and personal protective equipment (RCW 70.75A). Firefighting foam is a suspected source of drinking water contamination around airports, military bases and fire training areas. The state is exploring a swap-out program for existing stockpiles of PFAS foams at local fire departments. Visit the Department of Ecology's website to learn more about this work.

State Ban on PFAS in Food Contact Papers

In 2018, the Washington State Legislature restricted use of PFAS in food contact papers, if safer alternatives are available (RCW 70A.222). PFAS will be restricted in food wrappers and liners, plates, food boats, and pizza boxes starting in February 2023. The state continues to look for safer alternatives for other types of food contact papers. Visit the Department of Ecology's website to learn more.

Safer Products for Washington

In 2019, the Washington State legislature authorized the Department of Ecology, in consultation with Department of Health, to further restrict PFAS and other harmful chemical classes in consumer products. This law outlined a five-year process to identify problem products, safer alternatives, and regulatory solutions. Learn more at Safer Products for Washington.