PFAS and Your Water
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals historically used in many household products including nonstick cookware (e.g., Teflon™), stain repellants (e.g., Scotchgard™), and waterproofing (e.g., GORE-TEX™). They are or were also used in industrial applications such as in firefighting foams and electronics production. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they persist 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 (U.S. EPA) can be found at https://www.epa.gov/pfas.
Maryland American Water has performed voluntary sampling to better understand the occurrence of certain PFAS in drinking water sources. This sampling allows us to understand how our water compares against the non-enforceable health advisory level set by U.S. EPA. Sampling also allows Maryland American Water to be better prepared as U.S. EPA has proposed drinking water standards for six PFAS. Maryland American Water will take appropriate actions to meet new regulations.
Our PFAS results are included in our Consumer Confidence Reports, which are available here. You can find the report for your water system using the Zip Code Search or by clicking on the system name.
PFAS are not regulated in Maryland. In 2022, U.S. EPA set non-enforceable health advisory levels for four PFAS chemicals – PFOA (0.004 part per trillion (ppt)), PFOS (0.02 ppt), GenX (10 ppt), and PFBS (2,000 ppt). The health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are below the level of both detection (determining whether or not a substance is present) and quantitation (the ability to reliably determine how much of a substance is present). This means that it is possible for PFOA or PFOS to be present in drinking water at levels that exceed health advisories even if current testing indicates no level of these chemicals. Finally, PFAS chemicals are unique, so two PFAS chemicals at the same level typically do not present the same risk. Therefore, you should not compare the results for one PFAS chemical against the results of another.
U.S. EPA is not recommending bottled water for communities based solely on concentrations of PFAS chemicals in drinking water, even those that exceed the health advisory levels. Additionally, per U.S. EPA, studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can get into your body through skin. They also highlight that PFAS cannot be removed by heating or boiling water. More information is available at https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/questions-and-answers-drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-pfos-genx-chemicals-and-pfbs#q6).
However, some customers may make the personal choice to use water filters or drink bottled water. Certified water filtration systems may lower levels of some PFAS if the filter is properly maintained. Information on certified filter systems can be found here.
A part per trillion describes the amount of something, in this case PFAS, in water or soil. Here is an idea of what that means:
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 have 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 waterproofing (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.
Here are a few PFAS ingredients to avoid:
- Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
- Perfluorononyl Dimethicone
- C9-15 Fluoroalcohol Phosphate
- Octafluoropentyl Methacrylate
A good first step is to increase your understanding of how PFAS can enter our bodies, our homes and the environment. Ongoing education on PFAS and staying informed on federal and state guidance can help manage personal exposure.
Materials that help explain this are available from the Water Research Foundation. Another key action is to purchase products with less or no PFAS. This is hard because so many everyday products, from food packaging to carpets and raincoats, may have PFAS in them. Other products, like fertilizers and compost, may also have PFAS. Buying PFAS-free options will help decrease the amount of new PFAS entering the environment. A list of product types that may have PFAS, can be found at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/exposure.html.
At the national level, U.S. EPA has proposed drinking water standards for six PFAS and is gathering more information on these and other PFAS chemicals. More information is in the U.S. EPA PFAS Strategic Roadmap, available at https://www.epa.gov/pfas/pfas-strategic-roadmap-epas-commitments-action-2021-2024
PFAS health effect information can also be found on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/healtheffects/index.html.