Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s. These chemicals are used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and chemical reactions and repel oil, stains, grease and water. PFAS chemicals include PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).

PFAS are found in people, wildlife and fish all over the world. Some PFAS do not break down easily and therefore stay in the environment for a very long time, especially in water. Some PFAS can stay in people’s bodies for a long time.

How can I be exposed to PFAS?

PFAS contamination may be in drinking water, food, indoor dust, some consumer products, and workplaces. Most non-worker exposures occur through drinking contaminated water or eating food that contains PFAS. Although some types of PFAS are no longer used, some products may still contain PFAS:

  • Food packaging materials
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Stain-resistant carpets and fabrics
  • Water resistant clothing
  • Cleaning products
  • Paints, varnishes and sealants
  • Firefighting foam
  • Cosmetics
Are PFAS harmful to my health?

Some scientific studies suggest that certain PFAS may affect different systems in the body. Although more research is needed, some studies in people have shown that certain PFAS may:

  • Affect growth, learning and behavior of babies and older children
  • Lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
  • Interfere with the body’s natural hormones
  • Increase cholesterol levels
  • Affect the immune system
  • Increase the risk of cancer
What is the health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water?

Vermont's health advisory level for the sum of five PFAS should not exceed 20 ppt (parts per trillion) in drinking water. The five PFAS chemicals are:

  • PFOA
  • PFOS
  • PFHxS (perfluorohexane sulfonic acid)
  • PFHpA (perfluoroheptanoic acid)
  • PFNA (perfluorononanoic acid)

If your water has been tested and the total sum of the five PFAS is more than 20 ppt, we recommend not using your water for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, preparing baby formula, or any other manner of ingestion. Use bottled water instead or water from a known safe source. Do not use water containing the five PFAS over 20 ppt to water your garden. The PFAS could be taken up by the vegetables.

Health Advisory for Five PFAS

pfas testing in public water systems

Act 21 (passed in 2019) requires approximately 650 Public Community and Non-Transient Non-Community water systems to test for PFAS. Initial testing must be done before December 1, 2019 and how often future testing happens will be determined based on the sample results. This testing is being coordinated by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Over the next five years, the Agency of Natural Resources will work on the following to safeguard the public from PFAS contamination:

  • Test all public drinking water systems by December 1, 2019
  • Investigate additional potential sources and impacts of PFAS
  • Finalize the drinking water standard
  • Develop the scientific basis for and eventual setting of water quality standards for lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands

Learn more about what the State is doing about PFAS contamination
See frequently asked questions about PFAS in public drinking water

PFOA Contamination in Drinking Water Response

In early 2016, the State initiated an investigation and response regarding PFOA-contamination of drinking water wells in Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont. Learn about the PFOA response

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