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On April 10, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated the drinking water standards for public water systems – called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) – for six PFAS. The Health Department is working with the Department of Environmental Conservation to determine how these new MCLs will impact Vermont’s approach to managing PFAS in drinking water.

What are PFAS?

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, fish and wildlife 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.

PFAS in Consumer Products & Packaging

Vermont law restricts food packaging, residential carpets and rugs, aftermarket stain and water-resistant treatments, and ski wax and related tuning products with PFAS intentionally added to them. The Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office developed guidance to help responsible parties understand these regulations.

Guidance for Manufacturers, Suppliers and Distributors

What You Need to Know About PFAS in Drinking Water

Health concerns: Are PFAS harmful to my health?

Yes, PFAS are harmful to your health. The lower your exposure to PFAS, the lower your risk of having negative health effects. 

Exposure to PFAS may result in a wide range of health problems, including: 

  • Developmental effects, including to fetuses after exposure during pregnancy or postnatal development (for example, decreased birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations, development of the immune system)
  • Cancer (for example, testicular, kidney)
  • Liver effects 
  • Immune effects (for example, decreased antibody response to vaccination, decreased immune response)
  • Thyroid effects and other effects (for example, cholesterol changes)

Some populations are especially sensitive to PFOA and PFOS including babies, children who are developing, and people who are pregnant or might become pregnant. 

If you have been exposed to PFAS and are concerned about your health, talk to your health care provider. 

Source: How am I exposed to PFAS?

You may be exposed to PFAS in drinking water, food, indoor dust, some consumer products, and workplaces. Drinking contaminated water or eating food that contains PFAS are the most common ways to be exposed to PFAS. PFAS are not easily absorbed through your skin. 

Testing: How do I know if PFAS are in my water?

If you are on a public water system, your water has been tested for PFAS. Find PFAS results for your water system

If you are on a private well or spring, the Health Department recommends testing your water for bacteria, inorganic chemicals and gross alpha radiation by using the Vermont Homeowner Testing Package. If you have high levels of contaminants in your drinking water, we recommend treating your water. 

If you’d like to test your water for PFAS, find a certified drinking water lab. Testing for PFAS can be expensive. Oftentimes, the treatment system you install for other common contaminants in Vermont water will also treat for PFAS.

Test results: Is my result a problem?

PFAS are harmful to your health. The lower your exposure to PFAS, the lower your risk of having negative health effects. 

The EPA’s drinking water standards – called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) – are for six PFAS. There are individual MCLs and a grouped MCL for the sum of four PFAS: 

EPA's Regulated PFASMCL in parts per trillion (ppt)
PFOA4.0 ppt
PFOS4.0 ppt
PFNA10 ppt
PFHxS10 ppt
(commonly referred to as GenX)
10 ppt
Grouped MCL for the sum of 4 PFAS:
Cumulative hazard index of 1 

To lower your exposure to PFAS – if your water has been tested and is greater than the MCLs – you can stop using your water for drinking, food preparation, cooking, brushing teeth, preparing baby formula, or any other way of ingestion. Use bottled water with no PFAS detected, use water from a known safe source, or install a treatment system to remove PFAS.

Treatment options: Can I remove or lower the levels of PFAS in my water?

To lower your exposure to PFAS, you can treat your drinking water if PFAS levels are above the EPA MCLs. Learn about treating for PFAS in your drinking water

Frequently Asked Questions
Is it okay to shower or bathe if PFAS levels are above the EPA MCLs?

Normal showering and bathing are not likely to cause significant exposure to PFAS. PFAS are not easily absorbed through your skin. Children are more likely to swallow water while playing in the bathtub. Try to limit the amount of water they swallow.  

Is it okay to breastfeed/chestfeed if PFAS levels are above the EPA MCLs?

The Health Department recommends that you continue to breastfeed/chestfeed your baby, as there are many benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding. 

Is it okay to water my garden if PFAS levels are above the EPA MCLs?

Some vegetables may take up PFAS from the water used to water the vegetables. You could lower your exposure to PFAS by not using water containing PFAS over the MCLs to water your vegetables.

Should I have my blood tested for PFAS?

We know that almost every person living in America has PFAS in their blood. We know from scientific studies that if you drink water containing PFAS at concentrations over the Vermont health advisory level, you are likely to have PFAS in your blood at levels that are higher than most Americans. Studies have shown that once the exposure has stopped, the level of PFAS in the body will decrease over time.

A blood test can’t tell if your exposure to PFAS will cause health problems, or if a condition you have was caused by PFAS.

Should I see my doctor if I have PFAS in my water?

If you are concerned about PFAS in your water, or if you or family members have signs or symptoms that you think are related to PFAS exposure, discuss your concerns with your family’s health care provider. Learn more about talking to your health care provider about exposure to PFAS.

2016 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. Read the report on the results of blood testing and exposure assessment

More Information

For more information about the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation's ongoing efforts to understand the scope of PFAS contamination in the state, please call the PFAS helpline at 802-693-0206 or email [email protected]Stay up to date on what Vermont is doing to address PFAS

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PFAS Information (CDC)
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PFAS Information (EPA)
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Guidance for talking to your doctor about PFAS (CDC)
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