PFAS are toxic “forever chemicals” that linger in our air, water, soil and bodies – here’s how one can keep them out of your drinking water

Nearly half of American tap water comprises PFAS, or perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances. These “forever chemicals” are present in 1000’s of products, from clothing and cosmetics to cleansing productsand are linked to Cancer, liver damage, high cholesterol and asthma.

Dr. Jessica RayAssistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering on the University of Washington, explains what PFAS arehow scientists try to remove them from the environment and what you’ll be able to do to cut back the impact of PFAS on your personal health.

Dr. Jessica Ray talks about PFAS in our water supply.

The Conversation has worked with SciLine to bring you highlights from the discussion, edited for brevity and clarity.

What are PFAS and the way are they used?

Jessica Ray: PFAS are a category of 1000’s of synthetic chemicals originally manufactured within the Nineteen Fifties and heavily usedThey were the energetic ingredient in fire-fighting foams used on military bases to fight aircraft fires.

Since then they’ve been utilized in many applications and consumer products – Shampoos, dental floss, nail polish. They are utilized in waxy coatings of food containers. They are also used as non-stick coatings, for instance in cookware. They are utilized in outerwear to guard against rain.

Why are PFAS called “forever chemicals”?

Jessica Ray: It is difficult to detect PFAS naturally within the environment and even during processes comparable to Water supply.

How do PFAS spread within the environment?

Jessica Ray: Unfortunately, PFAS wish to follow solid surfaces like soil. They can dissolve in water and enter the Earth's atmosphere. And because PFAS can go through air, water and soil, humans and animals will be exposed to them in a Variety of possibilities.

For example, if PFAS are present in seawater and the fish ingest them and change into contaminated with PFAS and we then eat those fish, we’re exposed to PFAS. And unfortunately Researchers have discovered PFAS In many, many various drinking water sources worldwide. Not only surface water and groundwater, but in addition bottled water.

What are the health effects of PFAS?

Jessica Ray: PFAS have been linked to Liver tissue damage and kidney cancerIf a fetus is exposed to PFAS while pregnant, can result in low birth weight And accelerated pubertyPFAS are also related to immune system impairments.

How can we reduce personal exposure to PFAS?

Jessica Ray: You can Number of thingsWhen you cook, you’ll be able to buy and use chrome steel or forged iron cookware. This tried and tested cookware mustn’t contain PFAS.

Also search for products that explicitly state that they’re PFAS-free. And you would buy organic products, which must have lower PFAS levels. It will likely be necessary to search out ways to cut back PFAS levels within the environment and drinking water, given the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in April 2024, Regulation of several PFAS in drinking water.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set itself the goal of removing six chemicals from drinking water.

How can we remove PFAS from our drinking water?

Jessica Ray: A handful of corporations essentially sell a version of a Brita water filter that specifically targets PFAS, but generally, using a Brita or Pur water filter at home should help reduce exposure not only to PFAS, but in addition to other contaminants which will even be present within the drinking water that comes out of the faucet at home.

What about your research on removing PFAS from water?

Jessica Ray: My research group is investigating two different approaches to treating PFAS in water. One approach is Separating PFAS from waterThe other is, Destroy PFAS in water.

In the separation approaches, we examine existing water treatment processes utilized in drinking water and wastewater treatment after which try to switch these processes to specifically capture PFAS within the water while concurrently checking out other contaminants that could be present within the water.

How is your group attempting to improve PFAS filtration?

Jessica Ray: When you filter your water at home with a filter cartridge, you’ll be able to remove a wide range of contaminants. These contaminants can include heavy metals or other pollutants dissolved within the water.

But often PFAS in drinking water sources often occur in very, very low concentrationswhile other contaminants occur at much higher levels. Filters have only a limited variety of adsorption sites to bind contaminants, so it is extremely likely that the adsorption sites will likely be full before the PFAS will be faraway from the water.

One approach we're taking is developing recent adsorbents that specifically goal PFAS. My group has been developing this material for the past few years. And we're talking to individuals who will help us commercialize this technology so that customers can use these kinds of point-of-use treatments to guard themselves from PFAS. It's hard to say exactly how long it is going to take for the treatments to be commercially available – perhaps a 12 months or two.

Are there safer alternatives to PFAS?

Jessica Ray: Researchers are investigating the so-called green chemistry – Developing chemicals that behave similarly to PFAS but will not be as toxic and break down within the environment. So there may be hope for the longer term.

Watch the full interview to listen to more.

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