What is PFOA and PFOS anyway?

PFOA stands for perfluorooctanic acid and PFOS for perfluorooctane sulfonate. Simply put, they are man-made substances that are extremely persistent, and accumulate in the blood, kidneys, and liver of humans and animals. This can lead to adverse health effects, potentially including cancer, and negative developmental and reproductive effects. Research has shown that the half-life of the most common varieties of PFOA and PFOS is approximately 4 years. In other words, it takes 4 years for your body to rid itself of half of the levels of accumulated PFOA/PFOS, provided that no more is consumed.

On the molecular level, they are structurally similar to hydrocarbons but the hydrogen has been replaced by florine. Think of them as the asbestos of today. Asbestos was the miracle substance used in a wide range of products, from rolls of fake snow for your Christmas village to floor tiles – until the harmful side effects became known.

PFOA and PFOS are water and oil resistant, have been used in many applications in the recent years, including carpets, waterproof clothing, fireproofing materials, nonstick coatings, paper coatings, cardboard, and the list goes on. Many USA manufacturers eliminated the use of PFOA and PFOS by 2015, but there are still a small number of USA-made products that continue to use them, and imported goods may still contain PFOA and PFOS as well.

While the EPA has not provided a maximum contaminant level, several states have issued their own guidelines. Maine’s maximum levels are 0.13 ug/L and 0.56 ug/L for PFOA and PFOS respectively. There are several ways to treat contaminated water, including activated carbon filtration and ion exchange resins. If you are concerned that there may be elevated levels of PFOA and/or PFOS in your drinking water, whether you are on a private well or town water, McMahons Water Services can provide reliable tests and subsequent treatment options for your specific circumstances. Consultation and treatment recommendations are free.

For more information about PFOA and PFOS, the Technical Fact Sheet put out by the EPA or the Public Health Statement by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) are good resources: