Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Text: PFAS 101 - Image of a sink with water running. Image of the Framingham DPW seal.


WHAT ARE PER- AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAS)?

According to MassDEP, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. PFAS are widely used in common consumer products as coatings, such as food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, non-stick cookware, ski and snowboard waxes, and more. PFAS are also present in certain types of firefighting foam.
 
PFAS are water-soluble compounds that do not break down and are nicknamed the “forever chemicals.” PFAS from firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories, and other releases can seep into surface soils. From there, PFAS can leach into groundwater or surface water and can contaminate drinking water. PFAS have also been found in rivers, lakes, fish, and wildlife.
 
PFAS stays in the environment for a long time and does not break down easily. As a result, PFAS are widely detected in soil, water, air, and food. Some PFAS can accumulate in the food chain. Exposure can occur when someone uses certain products that contain PFAS, eats PFAS-contaminated food, or drinks PFAS-contaminated water. When ingested, some PFAS can build up in the body, and, over time, these PFAS may increase to a level where health effects could occur.

WHERE ARE PFAS SUBSTANCES COMMONLY FOUND?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS can be found in:

  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
  • Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
  • Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing, or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
  • Drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
  • Living organisms, including fish, animals, and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), as a result of phase-outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather, apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber, and plastics.

WHAT HEALTH EFFECTS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH EXPOSURE TO PFAS?

According to MassDEP, studies indicate that exposure to sufficiently elevated levels of certain PFAS may cause a variety of health effects, including developmental effects in fetuses and infants, effects on the thyroid, liver, kidneys, certain hormones, and the immune system. Some studies suggest a cancer risk may also exist in people exposed to higher levels of some PFAS. Scientists and regulators are still working to study and better understand the health risks posed by exposures to PFAS, and MassDEP is following developments in this burgeoning area closely.

WHERE DOES FRAMINGHAM'S PUBLIC DRINKING WATER COME FROM? 

The City of Framingham receives its water exclusively from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA). Framingham's public water supply system is considered a “Consecutive Water System,” meaning its water is purchased from another Community Public Water Supplier (the MWRA). The MWRA treats the City's water at its Carroll Water Treatment Plant in Marlborough, MA, before it arrives at our homes by traveling through the MetroWest Water Supply Tunnel.

ARE PUBLIC DRINKING WATER SUPPLIERS IN MASSACHUSETTS REQUIRED TO TEST FOR PFAS?

Yes, testing is required for six PFAS compounds currently regulated by MassDEP, referred to as PFAS6. On October 2, 2020, the MassDEP published its PFAS public drinking water standard, called a Massachusetts Maximum Contamination Level (MMCL), of 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L) (or parts per trillion (ppt)) - individually or for the sum of concentrations of six specific PFAS. These PFAS are PFOS;  PFOA); perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS); perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA); perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA); and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA). MassDEP abbreviates this set of six PFAS as “PFAS6.”  This drinking water standard is set to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water.

According to MassDEP, Community Public Water Suppliers (PWS), Non-transient, Non-community (NTNC) PWS, and Transient Non-community PWS are required to test for PFAS. Under the current regulations, Consecutive Water Systems receive results of PFAS testing from the Community Public Water Suppliers supplying their drinking water and are not required to perform additional testing. Private well owners are not currently required to sample for PFAS.

Reference this guide for more information about PFAS drinking water regulations. 

HAS THE MWRA CONDUCTED TESTING FOR PFAS?

The MWRA tested for the six regulated PFAS as well as a dozen other PFAS compounds, using extremely sensitive testing methods, beginning in 2019. MWRA began quarterly testing as required by the MassDEP regulation in January 2021. As expected, given MWRA’s well-protected watersheds and reservoirs, MWRA easily met the new standard. No more than trace amounts were detected, too low to be quantified. The sum of the six regulated PFAS compounds was zero, below the new MassDEP standard of 20 parts per trillion. MWRA PFAS testing results can be accessed here.

IS THE CITY OF FRAMINGHAM REQUIRED TO TEST THEIR PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY FOR PFAS?

At this time, the City of Framingham is not required to perform PFAS testing, and no mitigation measures are required. Monitoring for PFAS will continue to be the responsibility of the MWRA, as they are the primary water supplier.

DOES THE CITY OF FRAMINGHAM HAVE TO INCLUDE PFAS RESULTS IN ITS CONSUMER CONFIDENCE REPORT?

 Yes. Community PWS are required to report any detection of any PFAS in its consumer confidence report (CCR). Any detection of PFAS6 by the MWRA in drinking water delivered to the City of Framingham will be communicated by the MWRA to the City of Framingham and included in the City’s annual CCR. If PFAS6 detected is over the MCL, the CCR will also include information about potential adverse health effects.

MY POTABLE WATER IS SUPPLIED FROM MY OWN PRIVATE WELL. WHERE CAN I FIND INFORMATION ABOUT PFAS AND PRIVATE WELL WATER?

Reference information about PFAS for private well owners can be found here.

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PFAS?