A great deal of activity, research, and education has been happening surrounding the emerging contaminants PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), which have been in the news quite a bit over the past year. These and related manmade contaminants have been found in drinking water from 27 states, impacting roughly six million Americans.
Understanding Emerging Contaminants
At Secondwind Water Systems, we’re committed to helping consumers work through the complexities and anxieties around these emerging contaminants. A number of our certified water specialists participated in the NH Water Works Association Drinking Water Exposition and Trade Show in October. There, we received updates and valuable information and education from municipalities, the Department of Environmental Services, and engineering firms.
PFAS vs. PFC’s
The EPA is now calling this grouping of contaminants PFAS, which stands for per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, instead of PFC’s, which stands for perfluorinated chemicals. This is an all-encompassing grouping and a term you will continue to see and hear in the news.
These chemical compounds, which are resistant to heat, water, and oil, came into common use in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today, they are used in hundreds of consumer products, including cleaning and personal care items, stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting, fast food wrappers, non-stick cookware, and more. PFASs are also found in manufacturing and industrial processes, including fire fighting foams.
Concerns about PFAS
Many scientists believe that PFAS chemicals may have toxic effects on humans and animals, including:
- liver toxicity;
- immune system changes;
- elevated cholesterol levels;
- kidney and testicular cancers;
- ulcerative colitis;
- pregnancy-induced hypertension;
- developmental delays.
PFAS are persistent organic pollutants, or “POP,” which means they resist degrading in the environment. And since humans can’t easily break them down either, they can accumulate in our organs and tissues.
The plumes of these contaminants have been found to travel as far as six miles, which is very far when compared to the Btex family of contaminants (toluene and benzene), which travel 150 feet, or the chlor-ethenes which can travel 500 feet. PFAS chemicals can travel through air or water and end up a long way from the place where they were manufactured or used. For example, PFAS compounds have been detected in Antarctic seals and in polar bears from remote Arctic areas.
“We know that a large area of New Hampshire has been affected by PFAS–up to 100 square miles–at a level of 20 parts per trillion,” says Christine Fletcher, president and founder of Secondwind Water Systems.
Secondwind Successfully Treats PFOA and Related Contaminants
Fletcher reports that, for the past three years, Secondwind has conducted pilot studies on testing and treating PFOA and related contaminants in New Hampshire’s drinking water. “We ran pilot studies at our own expense,” she explains. “For the sake of those impacted by these issues, I’m happy to report that we have a solution. WE have attained non-detectable levels of these contaminants in our drinking water (reverse osmosis carbon systems) and whole house water system installations.”
While this news is promising, Fletcher remains cautious. “We must complete further testing to gain an increased understanding of system performance, and maintenance and sizing requirements,” she explains. “While we know a lot about PFOA testing and treatment, there is a lot that we don’t know. Be very wary of any company that claims it can unconditionally treat PFOA and guarantee removal for a specific period of time. There is no science to back this yet,” she adds.
PFAS Testing and Treatment in NH
Because these PFAS compounds are so pervasive in our environment, many wells throughout New Hampshire may have been contaminated. The Secondwind team is familiar with water regions throughout the state, and can help you decide if you should test your water for PFAS compounds. From there, we can discuss treatment options so you can feel confident about drinking your water. To talk to a water specialist, call us at (603) 641-5767.