PFAS – Not just Forever, but Everywhere and Harmful – What to Know and Do

My last blogpost introduced the group of chemicals, polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, also known as “forever” chemicals, and their risks to the environmental and public health. For this post, I want to stress the extent of our exposure to these chemicals and their impact to our health.

The fact that there are more than 4,500 PFAS compounds produced ought to tell us that they are found in a huge number of products. Also, the question of why do we need so many non-stick like chemicals  comes to mind. Most of us may only be familiar with only a few of products that contain PFAS — non-stick cookware, and stain resistant fabrics for clothing, carpet, and furniture. In reality the number of common everyday products containing PFAS number in the hundreds, and many of these will surprise you. For example, PFAS can be found in some: candy wrappers, cleaning products, cosmetics, dental floss, electronics and circuit boards, fire-fighting foams, food packaging, hydraulic fluid, inks, metal plating paints, pesticides, photographic processing paper, polishes, shampoo, surfactants, and other related products. With PFAS in so many products we use or are in contact with daily, it is no wonder that 98% of us have PFAS in our blood, and the extent that they are found in our water and the environment. So, including the descriptor “everywhere” in addition to “forever” is reasonable.

Being forever and everywhere alone is reason for alarm, but combining the growing understanding of the impacts to human health, greatly escalates the danger of this group of compounds. Research studies on PFAS and human health are relatively recent, but the variety of adverse health risks known to date are highly significant and should prompt immediate response. Studies have shown the health effects include increased risk of: asthma, diabetes, decreased birth weight, cancer (kidney, testicular), increased cholesterol, kidney and liver disease, decreased immune response, decreased fertility, obesity, thyroid disease, and reduced vaccine response. These health impacts are what we know now from studies that have only looked into a small portion of the PFAS compounds.

All this information on the persistent, ubiquitous, and harmful characteristics of PFAS compounds should be a wake up call for all of us — consumers, manufacturers, regulators, and policy makers. Fortunately, the level of concern and action is slowly increasing in society. EPA is investing many resources in new regulations and research, and some states are moving rapidly to set higher drinking water standards and bans of PFAS in some or all products. A few recent examples include:

  • California banned PFAS in paper products and requires cookware to disclose the presence of PFAS, and further they will ban PFAS in children’s clothing
  • Colorado banned use of fire-fighting foams with PFAS
  • New York state ban of PFAS in detergents and paper products in 2022 
  • Maine banned the intentional addition of PFAS in food packaging in 2019  and has banned added PFAs in all products, and will be phased in
  • Pennsylvania has limited two common PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS in drinking water to 14 and 18 parts per trillion.
  • Vermont will ban PFAS in food packaging, carpets, rugs and ski wax
  • Washington state prohibited PFAS in food packaging in 2022
To date 2,850 locations in all 50 states are known to have PFAS contamination (Check out Environmental Working Groups’ interactive map:

Unfortunately, there is still much to learn, and we can expect new research to expand our understanding of the risks and seriousness of this issue. What can we as consumers do now?

A couple of suggestions are:

Check out these other tips from Clean Water Fund.

Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters:

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Fluoride in Drinking Water? 

Fluoride was originally added to public drinking water in the 1950s as a way to reduce dental cavities or tooth decay. There are some natural water supplies that contain fluoride, and public utilities will test to determine if removal or addition is warranted. 

The American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and others supported this effort then and still do today. The Environmental Protection Agency established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4 mg/l or ppm and most utilities will add fluoride at 0.5 – 1.5 mg/l. 

In the years since initiation of fluoridation, there have been numerous studies which have investigated the potential health impacts associated with fluoride. Several studies have shown a link of ingested fluoride with an increase of dental and skeletal fluorosis (staining or pitting of teeth in children, or bone weakness), cognitive impairment, hypothyroidism, enzyme and electrolyte derangement, and uterine cancer. However, the American Cancer Society recently has stated that research has not shown a link of fluoride and cancer. 

Concentrations of fluoride in these studies varied, but some show a link to health effects at levels of 1-2 mg/l, well below the EPA MCL. The Department of Health and Human Service has recommended an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams per liter is set to promote public health benefits of fluoride for preventing tooth decay while minimizing the chance for dental fluorosis and other health issues. 

Currently the EPA is reviewing the new risk assessment of fluoride to determine whether to revise the drinking water standard. 

Given the increasing concern over potential health impacts with fluoridated water, there are efforts by various groups to lobby for utilities to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. One argument used is that since the use of fluoridated toothpaste and other topical products, which have been shown to be more effective than a water source, fluoridation is no longer warranted, especially given the potential harm to certain individuals or populations. In recent years, over 75 cities have stopped adding fluoride to their drinking water supply. Further the U.S. Public Health Service has lowered its recommended level of fluoride in drinking water. 

If you are concerned about fluoride in your drinking water, check with your public water utility. An annual Consumer Confidence Report is available and will inform you of the amount of fluoride in the water supply. If you are using a private well, you can have your water tested. There are several filters that will remove fluoride including anion exchange, activated alumina, and the most common is reverse osmosis which can be installed under the sink to treat your drinking water. 

For more information on water quality and testing, check out our website.

Drinking-Water Quality and Environmental Justice

Samuel T. Coleridge coined the phrase ‘‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’’ This may surprisingly reflect some of our drinking water quality in the U.S. In such a technologically advanced society, it is easy to assume that all of our drinking water is safe and of good quality. Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

We have all heard that our nation’s infrastructure is deteriorating and is in need of huge investment for replacement. This certainly applies to our water delivery systems. Lower-income and minority communities in particular, have a greater risk of exposure to pollutants, whether from air or drinking water. There are numerous factors that contribute to this disproportionate risk including proximity to pollution sources (landfills, industry, agriculture, etc.) and related lower land values, greater risk of flooding, failing water supply infrastructure, and lower allocations of funding for public water technologies. In addition, those on private wells often are not testing their water as recommended, nor have the funding for treatment systems. 

The lead crisis in Flint, Mich., is just one example of drinking water contamination situations that have brought attention to the wide-ranging socioeconomic disparities in the risk of drinking water contamination. 

Violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act have been observed to be more prevalent in lower-income communities with higher proportions of Hispanic or African-American residents. For example, a 2010-2014 study showed that 5.6 million people served by a small community water system had average nitrate concentrations above 5 mg/L. Though below the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL of 10 mg/L), the observed levels have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and birth defects. 

Small community water supplies, especially those that supply low-income and minority communities, may have poorer water quality to begin with, due to closer proximity to pollution sources. Further, these water supplies may have reduced technical, managerial, and financial capabilities in managing drinking water, and may lack the needed resources to comply with testing and treatment requirements. Another study showed the percent Hispanic residents and those living in urban areas were associated with an increased likelihood of detection, or exceedance of health guidelines, of several unregulated industrial, inorganic, and disinfection by-product contaminants. 

The situation with private wells and drinking water quality can be even more concerning. Surveys indicate that private wells in the United States often exceed health standards for at least one contaminant. Two studies in the south and Mid-Atlantic have shown that 15-24% of private wells exceeded the 15 parts per billion EPA action level for lead, thereby exposing children to increase risk of behavior, growth, and neurological disorders. One factor in the incidence of contamination of well water quality is that private well supplies are not regulated, as are public supplies, therefore the responsibility for testing and treatment is on the well owner. Unfortunately, most well owners do not test their water as recommended, often not knowing when and what to test. 

Further exasperating this issue is the financial constraints of lower-income and minority populations in affording water testing and installing and maintaining necessary treatment systems.   

Greater attention to enacting policies to address disparities in water supply quality, and educating all consumers is needed to ensure justice for a fundamental health requirement of safe and quality drinking water. 

Home Maintenance and Water Check-Up

Maintaining your home and the various appliances helps them last longer, saving you money, but can also benefit your health. You might first think of your air conditioner/heating system, or your refrigerator and vacuum cleaner needing maintenance such as filter changes, but your water supply and filtration systems need attention too. In fact, your water quality is very important to your health, so why not use the beginning of the New Year to do a water supply tune-up! 

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune-up procedures will vary:

For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you use some type of filtration – faucet, pitcher, or refrigerator or under-the-sink filter. With these, simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. 

As with any filter, they have to be changed regularly to function effectively. Not changing them can lead not only to a reduction in performance and potentially lifespan, but also contaminants can no longer be trapped and are released into the water you’re drinking. Water filters, in particular, can potentially build up bacteria if filters are not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

If you are using a water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli, and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants). Every three years test for arsenic, chloride, copper, lead, pH, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. If there are known local sources of contaminants (local health departments are a good resource), you can test for these also. 

So, for peace of mind follow these simple water tune practices to ensure good drinking water quality.

Conserving Water is a Win-Win Practice

The average American home uses more than 300 gallons of water per day, and about 75% of that is for indoor uses, like laundry and showering. Whether you are on a public water source or private well, conserving water not only saves you money, but also helps protect the environment. It takes energy to treat and deliver water to homes, and heating water can be as much as 25% of your electric bill. Using less energy also helps the environment since energy production often uses fossil fuels. 

Fortunately, conserving water is relatively simple and we all can start with some common sense practices:


  • Use high efficiency appliances and fixtures like front loading clothes washers, low flow faucets, and low-flush toilets, to reduce the water volume entering sewer or septic systems.
  • Check for and fix leaks. Leaking toilets and plumbing fixtures can account for 12% of daily water use.
  • Limit water use by taking shorter showers, turning off water when brushing teeth, and fully loading appliances (dishwashers, laundry machines and dryers).
  • Fill your sink or use a basin to wash dishes rather than running water continuously.


  • Consider landscaping that naturally requires less water.
  • Use mulch around landscaping to reduce evaporation.
  • Only water lawn once per week and no more than one inch of water (use a can to collect water and measure time it takes to get an inch).
  • Collect rainfall with a rain barrel to water landscaping.
  • Use a bucket of water to wash your car or use a commercial car washing facility.
  • Clean driveways and sidewalks with a broom rather than washing.

These easy to do practices do make a difference to your wallet and to the environment around you.  

To Test or Not to Test … Your Drinking Water

The quantity and quality of water you drink is important to your health, but what do you really know about your water quality, and do you need to treat it?

Side view of elderly woman drinking water

I often get asked “should I treat my water?” Not to be vague, but more to get homeowners thinking, I respond, “it depends on the quality, and the only way to know is to test the water.”

As mentioned in my last post, if you are on a public water supply, it is regulated by EPA, and your water utility is regularly testing the quality for about 95 contaminants. Further, annual consumer confidence reports are available from your water utility describing the water quality. Check out the report and become informed about your water supply and quality!

**Note, the contaminant lead does not come from the water source, rather leaches from household plumbing (pipe and fixtures) if you have older metal plumbing and your water is low in pH and has elevated chloride. If this is the case for your home, testing for lead is recommended.

A glass of water macro shotIf water comes from a private well, the homeowner is responsible for testing and treating the water. So back to the question of treating or not treating. How do you know what to treat for if you do not know the quality? If you have not tested your well water, contact your local county health department and ask for what to test for and get a list of certified labs that you can send your water samples to (these labs will provide complete sampling equipment and instructions).

Testing for coliform bacteria, E. coli, chloride, copper, hardness, nitrate, pH, lead, manganese, total dissolved solids, sulfates and any local contaminant (check with health department) is suggested every three years. Annual testing for coliform bacteria, E. coli and nitrates to ensure there is no contamination from animal waste is recommended. EPA Water FilterOnly with the test results will you know whether treatment is necessary.

The good news is that if one or more of the results is above the EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL), there are several types of filtration available to get water within the safe drinking levels. Filtration can be expensive to buy and maintain, so it makes sense to install only the filtration needed. Filtration units may need only be installed on the faucet that supplies your drinking or cooking water. Other systems treat the entire house as with a water softener to reduce hardness or a reverse osmosis system to reduce salt and other contaminants.

To maintain the effectiveness of the filtration and water quality is critical to follow the recommended maintenance including changing filters. Several online drinking water tools can help determine what treatment system is recommended based on your water quality. Check out  and for more information.

Invest in your health and get to know your drinking water quality!

You Are What You Drink

Ever give any thought to how critical water is to your health? You may have heard that we should drink eight 12-ounce glasses a day, but why? Knowing the value of water to our bodies and health should prompt us to give this fundamental nutrient greater attention.  

Macro shot of pouring water into a glassSince we are made up of about 60% water (and babies are 78%), it stands to reason that we are what we drink as much, maybe more, than we are what we eat. Both the quantity and quality of water matters. Water is critical for a variety of essential body functions — it is a basic building material for our cells, helps regulate body temperature, aids in respiration, helps digestive system process foods, removes wastes from the body, lubricates our joints, aids good brain function (the brain is 73% water), and other important functions.

wss-property-water-in-you-body (1)So that recommendation to drink about 8 glasses a day is understandable and we should put this in our daily regime, but while getting enough water is imperative, the quality of water is also important to our health. 

Our drinking water comes from two major sources, surface water (rivers and reservoirs) and groundwater via wells. Municipalities rely on both sources. About 73% of US drinking water comes from surface sources and the remaining 27% from groundwater wells. 

Public water supplies are regulated by EPA and go through extensive quality testing and treatment to ensure safety. Private well water quality is unregulated and the responsibility for ensuring quality is up to the homeowner. 

image-from-rawpixel-id-436140-jpegDon’t know your source? If you get a monthly water bill, you are served by a public supply. All public suppliers are required to provide users with an annual water quality report or Consumer Confidence Report. Contact your water utility and check it out. 

If you are on a well, test your water annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria. If you don’t have any recent water quality information, contact your local health department for recommendations on what to test for.  

Remember to drink water for your health!