Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Perflorinated Compounds (PFCs) have been discovered in ground water around the country stemming from both commercial and industrial uses. Concerns have been especially prominent in area surrounding military bases. For over five decades, a fire suppressant known as Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) was used for various training and real world applications. The use of this PFC laden agent had adverse implications for drinking water in the neighboring areas. A local example is the use of AFFF at the former Naval Air Warefare Center in Warminster, PA. This site was used for the research and development of naval aircraft systems from the mid-1940s to mid-1990s. In 1989, the EPA added the site to the Superfund National Priorities List due to groundwater contamination with volatile chemicals. Starting in 2013, EPA began testing for PFCs under the EPA's Third Unregulated Contaminants Contaminant Monitoring Rule. Three public water wells under control of the Warminster Municipal Authority tested above the Provisional Health Advisory Level (PHAL) for Perflorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and were taken out of use a short time thereafter. Private wells were also sampled by the EPA. Bottles of water were given to affected residents for drinking and cooking purposes prior to these locations being connected to the public water system.
Although it was used widely as a fire suppressant, PFCs had more of a presence in products with water/stain repelling properties such as Dupont's Teflon, which contained perflorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 3M's Scotchgard which contained PFOS. These PFCs were also found in carpets, clothing, upholstery, paper food packaging, and cookware. It is believed that as many as 5.2 million individuals may be at risk of consuming elevated levels of PFOA and PFOS compounds as well as other PFCs. Many utilities have issued reports regarding the status of the testing and bottled water has been provided where the drinking water from the public system is deemed unsafe. From 2000 to 2002, PFOS were voluntarily phased out of manufacturing in the US and as a result, blood levels have been steadily decreasing.
The EPA has recently lowered the threshold for levels of PFC consumption, emphasizing the impact on unborn and growing infants, that may be susceptible to developmental issues with overexposure. It is believed that unborn infant exposure may result in reduced birth weight and well as immunological and hormonal deficiency through development with even a single exposure. The largest issue is due to infants consuming more water as a percentage of their body weight as compared to adults, which puts them at a higher health risk. Although breastfeeding may expose infants to PFCs, studies have found that the benefits of the nutrition provided through lactation far exceed the risk. It is also recommended that bottled water be used for baby formulas where the drinking water is under scrutiny. The main issue with PFCs is that when absorbed into the bloodstream, the contaminants do not readily breakdown and thusly have the ability to cause extensive damage. Studies have shown that there may be adverse effects to the liver, kidneys as well as neurological, reproductive and immunological systems. The updated limit as of May 2016 is 0.07 parts per billion (ppb), down from 0.4 ppb. Although this number has been released, it is important to recognize that this limit is neither regulatory or enforceable as the relevant legislation has not yet been passed. It is an EPA assessment of peer-reviewed science based off of animal studies and epidemiological data while applying varying factors of uncertainty. Information regarding potential contaminants in drinking water are available on EPA.gov as well as your water authorities' website.