What You Need to Know About PFOS and PFOA

In recent years, there have been growing concerns about two environmental contaminants PFOS and PFOA. These are two man-made chemicals that were used in the manufacturer of a variety of consumer goods from stain resistant carpets to pizza boxes. This proliferation has meant that we now have PFOS and PFOA in the air, soil, and water. This has contaminated not only food supplies, but also water sources, creating a health risk for both humans and wildlife. So, here we will explore what you need to know about PFOS and PFOA. 

The Basics What You Need to Know About PFOS and PFOA

PFOS is an acronym for perfluorooctane sulfonate and PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid. Both of these are fluorinated organic chemicals and are a part of the PFASs (perfluoroalkyl substances) family of compounds. These are synthetic compounds that have the unique characteristic of being both water and lipid resistant. Since they deter grease, oil, and water, fluorochemicals were used for a variety of industrial applications and manufacturing processes. While there are many compounds in the fluorochemical family, PFOS and PFOA are the most extensively created and studied in the U.S. 

Manufacturing With PFOA and PFOS 

Since the 1950s PFOA and PFOS have been used to coat many consumer goods, particularly those designed to be nonstick, stain resistant or waterproof. PFOA and PFOS were used in the manufacture of textiles, leather goods, stain resistant carpets, photographic processes, food packaging, polishes, fire retardant foams, pesticides and cleaning products.

Unfortunately, during manufacturing, substantial quantities of PFOA and PFOS were dumped as waste products. This left these chemicals in the soil, water, and air. Direct contamination from the manufacturing processes and consumer use of related products is thought to exceed 7,000 metric tons of PFOA and PFOS. As a result, there has been considerable exposure to these chemicals, and they have become a serious concern for human health, the environment, and wildlife.

3M, the primary manufacturer of PFOS, started a voluntary phase out in 2000 following a number of studies showing the detrimental effects of the compound. Eight major companies followed suit in 2006 with the agreement to remove PFOA, PFOS and any related compounds by 2015 under EPA guidance. Sadly, this may have been too little, just too late.  

What Can Be Done 

PFOA and PFOS are very persistent chemicals; they are not easily degraded or broken down. So, when they are released, they don’t leave the environment easily. While agencies are continuing to work on techniques to manage contamination, there are several things that consumers can do to reduce exposure.

The most important things is avoiding purchasing problematic household goods. While the use of PFOA and PFOS has been restricted in the United States, this is not the case in other countries around the world. You should try to purchase organic, natural material carpets and textiles. You should avoid nonstick cookware and opt for greener cleaning products.

You should also filter your water supply. Both reverse osmosis and activated carbon have been shown effective in removing PFOA and PFOS. This will ensure that any traces in your water supply are eliminated. A fully WQA certified water treatment specialist will be able to advise you on the systems that are most appropriate for PFOA and PFOS abatement. 

By Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska. 

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative.  Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.

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