PFAS – Prevalent and Persistent Pollution 

Per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of over 4,500 manufactured fluorine chain chemicals that are used in a wide variety of non-stick, heat, stain and oil resistant products. Common applications and products containing PFAS include non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste and floss, paint, pesticides, and firefighting foams. 

Due to the extensive use, PFAS compounds have been observed in groundwater and drinking water supplies, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and humans throughout the United States and world. Due to the many carbon to fluorine bonds, one of the strongest bonds in nature, these compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years. Compounding this prevalence and persistence is the fact that the amounts are increasing in the environment, some food products and animals, a process known as bioaccumulation, and as the use of PFAS containing products increase, the amount in surface and groundwater accumulate. 

The source of PFAS in humans is from food, dust and drinking water, with recent studies showing that the contribution from drinking water is as high as 90%. The effect on human health has been researched only on a dozen or less PFAS compounds including PFOA and PFOS, the most widely used PFAS compounds. 

Exposure to these two chemicals have been attributed to significant health risks including increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight. PFOA and PFOS were phased out by the mid 2000’s, and concentrations in humans have decreased slightly since then. However, many more PFAS are being used and produced and there remains a significant gap of knowledge on the environmental and human health effects of other PFAS compounds.

PFAS concentrations in drinking water tend to be greater near manufacturing plants, military bases and airports were firefighting foam is used. The EPA has issued a health advisory (not a regulation) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for drinking water, whereas Europe and several US states have imposed more stringent limits of PFAS in drinking water. 

Even though our knowledge of the extent of risks of all PFAS compounds is very limited, the good news is that several filtration systems have been shown to be effective in removing many PFAS contaminants. These include activated carbon (10-97% removal), ion exchange (90-99% removal) and reverse osmosis (93-99% removal). These filters can be installed in homes to treat either the entire home (point of entry, POE), or point of use (POU) typically installed under the sink for drinking and cooking use. 

In addition to treating our drinking water, we can all be better stewards by the choices we make. Proper recycling and disposal of unwanted household goods and products may help contain some PFAS. Investing in learning what products contain PFAS could help in making better product choices, but unfortunately, only broad product categories, as described earlier, are published. Whether a specific product contains PFAS is not readily available since no labeling requirement exists currently. More info on PFAS can be found at: CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html; EPA: https://www.epa.gov/pfas; and MDE: https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Water/water_supply/Pages/PFAS_Home.aspx   


  • PFAS compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals.
  • Studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years.
  • Health risks include increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight.

Just Keep Swimming (Safely)

In the heat of summer, there is nothing more refreshing than heading to a pool, beach, or some other cool place for a swim. As a kid, I loved going to my grandmother’s house to play in the pool with my cousins. We would hold diving contests, play games of “Sharks and Minnows,” and enjoy the occasional popsicle as well. My husband and I recently moved into our new house, which has a pool, and it has brought back many of these fun memories. But, it also got me thinking about making sure that people enjoy my pool safely. So, today I thought I would offer some tips around making sure we can all be safe and have fun at the pool!

Having fun in the sun means being prepared for everything the sun brings with it! The warmth from the sun can turn dangerous without the right protection. There are a variety of options you can consider, although the most popular and common one is probably sunscreen. The most important thing when using sunscreen is to make sure you are following instructions for the sunscreen you are using. It will tell you how to apply it and how often you’ll need to reapply to make sure it is protecting you and your family.

But you should also consider sun protection options like protective clothing, umbrellas, or going inside. If you have children who make the putting on sunscreen a difficult process, protective clothing might be a great option. My husband recently bought two shirts that protect against the sun and he found it much easier than trying to remember to reapply after swimming. Although it isn’t always an option, if you are able, going inside during the hottest part of the day can also be very helpful. Anything to avoid a sunburn, right?

Children sitting by the pool. Images by rawpixel.com.

Another important aspect of staying safe at the pool is following any posted rules or clearly explaining your family’s own pool rules. For example, many pools have a no running rule, which can be difficult for kids to understand. Talking about this rule ahead of time might help. You could even do a science experiment to show kids different surfaces and how they change when they are wet. Having kids participate and understand what it means for something to be slippery and dangerous might help them understand why that rule applies at the pool. Discussing rules like this ahead of time can be a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page. For example, you might have a rule that your kids can only be in certain parts of the pool. You can talk to young kids ahead of time and explain how the depth can change in some pools and that it isn’t safe for them to be in deeper areas. Explaining why the rule exists might make the kids more likely to follow it.

As a parent, there are many other things you can do to ensure pool safety. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website dedicated to sharing this information. You can go to https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/ to check it out. It shares information about making sure kids have appropriate supervision, teaching kids to swim, and installing protective barriers and other equipment. Be sure to check out the information and resources on the website to see if there is anything that will be helpful for you and your family.

Enjoy some safe and fun pool time this summer!