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EPA: Two types of PFAS far more toxic than previously understood

Sampling locations for PFOA, PFOS and GenX (Map: DEQ)

The EPA released data yesterday that suggests two types of PFAS are more toxic than previously understood, which could trigger a drastic reduction in what the agency considers acceptable amounts in drinking water.

The data showed that PFOA and PFOS were found to cause health problems at much lower reference doses by thousands of times. The reference dose is the maximum amount of a toxic chemical that can be ingested, but that doesn’t result in an excess risk of cancer or other health disorders.

The EPA has forwarded the data to its Science Advisory Board for review. If the SAB agrees with the findings, the federal and North Carolina health advisory goal for PFOA would be nearly 14,000 times more stringent. Instead of 70 ppt, the goal would be reduced to .005 ppt, a minute amount. The EPA has said data shows that PFOA is likely carcinogenic, meaning it’s been linked to cancer.

For PFOS, the health advisory goal would be 3,000 times stricter, at a level of .02 ppt.

A health advisory goal is not legally enforceable, but it is among the steps toward a national drinking water standard, which is law.

There are thousands of types of PFAS, also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. They are used in myriad products, including Teflon cookware, floor waxes, water- and stain-resistant upholstery and clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foams.  

Exposure to some of these compounds, including GenX, has been already been linked to several types of cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, low birth weight, and thyroid disorders.  

In North Carolina, PFOA and PFOS have been detected in many drinking water supplies. Over the last two years, monitoring in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin has consistently shown levels that, if the new health advisory goals were in place today, would far exceed them. (Before November 2019, sampling data is not reliable because laboratory testing methods weren’t sensitive enough to detect low levels of the compounds.)

PFOA and PFOS results November 2019-July 2021
(minimum, maximum and average, all in parts per trillion)
Bladen Bluffs Water Treatment Plant
PFOA: 2 ppt • 7.6 ppt • 3.86
PFOS: 2 ppt • 9.8 ppt • 3.70

Brunswick County WTP
PFOA: 2.0 • 7.6 • 4.0
PFOS: 4.3 • 16.4 • 12.0

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority
PFOA: 1.81 • 3.57 • 2.49
PFOS: 1.06 • 3.55 • 2.0

Pender County WTP
PFOA: 1.16 • 4.8 • 2.7
PFOS: 1.49 • 3.34 • 2.3

Chemours Fayetteville Works discharge, Outfall 002
PFOA: 4.125 •  52 • 8.7
PFOS: 3.2  45.2 • 10.9

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