For questions please contact the PFAS Hotline at 781-784-1525 ext. 2309.
Last updated 6/5/2021
Basic Information on PFAS
New Commonwealth PFAS Regulations in Drinking Water
Basic Information on PFAS
According to the EPA website, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
PFAS can be found in:
- Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
- Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
- Packaging, they have also been found to leach from packaging into Anvil 10+10, a pesticide the state has used to combat mosquito-borne illnesses.
- Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
- Drinking water, previously thought to be typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
- Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.
Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs including the PFOA Stewardship Program in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.
PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellants. Most people have been exposed to PFAS. Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. The most-studied PFAS chemicals are PFOA and PFOS. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:
- low infant birth weights,
- effects on the immune system,
- cancer (for PFOA), and
- thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s, and are (or have been) found in many consumer products like cookware, food packaging, and stain repellants. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS. PFAS may be released into the air, soil, and water, including sources of drinking water. PFOA and PFOS are the most studied PFAS chemicals and have been voluntarily phased out by industry, though they are still persistent in the environment. There are many other PFAS, including GenX chemicals and PFBS in use throughout our economy.
GenX is a trade name for a technology that is used to make high performance fluoropolymers (e.g., some nonstick coatings) without the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). HFPO dimer acid and its ammonium salt are the major chemicals associated with the GenX technology. GenX chemicals have been found in surface water, groundwater, finished drinking water, rainwater, and air emissions in some areas. As part of EPA’s draft toxicity assessment, EPA has developed draft oral reference doses (RfDs) for GenX chemicals.
Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) has been used as a replacement chemical for PFOS. PFBS has been identified in environmental media and consumer products, including surface water, wastewater, drinking water, dust, carpeting and carpet cleaners, and floor wax. EPA has developed RfDs for PFBS as part of EPA’s efforts to increase the amount of research and information that is publicly available on chemicals in the PFAS family.
- Learn about the Human Health Toxicity Assessment for PFBS
- Learn about the GenX Chemicals Toxicity Assessment
There are a variety of ways that people can be exposed to these chemicals and at different levels of exposure. For example, people can be exposed to low levels of PFAS through food, which can become contaminated through:
- Contaminated soil and water used to grow the food,
- Food packaging containing PFAS, and
- Equipment that used PFAS during food processing.
People can also be exposed to PFAS chemicals if they are released during normal use, biodegradation, or disposal of consumer products that contain PFAS. People may be exposed to PFAS used in commercially-treated products to make them stain- and water-repellent or nonstick. These goods include carpets, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging materials, and non-stick cookware.
People who work at PFAS production facilities, or facilities that manufacture goods made with PFAS, may be exposed in certain occupational settings or through contaminated air.
Drinking water can be a source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies. Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility, for example,
- an industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture other products, or
- an oil refinery, airfield or other location at which PFAS were used for firefighting.
PFOA, PFOS, and GenX have been found in a number of drinking water systems due to localized contamination. You can view more information about exposures to PFAS through drinking water on Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS.
There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. If humans, or animals, ingest PFAS (by eating or drinking food or water than contain PFAS), the PFAS are absorbed, and can accumulate in the body. PFAS stay in the human body for long periods of time. As a result, as people are exposed to PFAS from different sources over time, the level of PFAS in their bodies may increase to the point where they suffer from adverse health effects.
Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies. The most consistent findings from human epidemiology studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to: infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).
Oral exposure studies of PFBS in animals have shown effects on thyroid hormone disruption, reproductive organs and tissues, developing fetus, and kidney. Based on dose-response information across different sexes, lifestages, and durations of exposure, the thyroid appears to be particularly sensitive to oral PFBS exposure. The data are inadequate to evaluate cancer effects associated with PFBS exposure.
New Commonwealth PFAS Regulations in Drinking Water
On October 2, 2020 the DEP amended Massachusetts Drinking Water Regulations, and established a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 0.000020 milligrams per liter (mg/l) or 20 ng/l (also called parts per trillion or ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds (PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA and PFDA), known as PFAS6. The regulations detail the sampling requirements and corrective actions that a Public Water System must take when the MCL is exceeded, as well as the provisions for public education and notice of exceedances so that communities can be educated and proactive in protecting their drinking water quality.
To download the latest Masachusetts Drinking Water PFAS Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) Amendments, click here.
For a Quick Reference Guide on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Drinking Water Regulations, click here.
Yes. The Town of Sharon Water Department tested for PFAS in 2013 as part of the EPA third round of Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) and found no detectable presence of PFAS. However, UCMR3 was tested on a part-per-billion standard (one part-per billion is the equivalent of one second during the course of 31.7 years), whereas more contemporary testing utilizes a part-per-trillion standard (one part-per-trillion is the equivalent of one second during the course of 31,710 years).
Beginning in April 2021 per recently promulgated DEP regulations, Sharon began testing for PFAS on the part-per-trillion scale. Confirmatory tests were performed on all Sharon’s wells. Quarterly testing is ongoing. The range of PFAS6 levels detected at the Town’s six wells ranged from Non Detectable to 88.8 ng/L at Well 4. These samples are now considered the initial samples, and as these sample results at Well #4 were above 20 ng/L, the Sharon Water Department is required to carry out public notice of an MCL violation and public education.
ND – Nondetect below 2.0 ng/L
NR – No test required
What Does DEP Recommend For Me?
This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified within 24 hours.
Although this is not an emergency, as our water customer, you have a right to know what happened, what you should do, and what we did and are doing to address this situation.
For Consumers in a sensitive subgroup:
(pregnant or nursing women, infants and people diagnosed by their health care provider to have a compromised immune system)
- Consumers in a sensitive subgroup are advised not to consume, drink, or cook with water when the level of PFAS6 is above 20 ng/L.
- Sensitive subgroups are advised to use bottled water for drinking and cooking of foods that absorb water (like pasta).
- For infant formula, use bottled water or use formula that does not require adding water.
- Bottled water should only be used if it has been tested. A list of companies that voluntarily tested their water for PFAS and shared the results can be found on MassDEP’s website at: https://www.mass.gov/doc/bottled-water-tested-for-pfas.
For all other consumers not in a sensitive subgroup:
- If you are not in a sensitive subgroup, you may continue to consume the water because the 20 ng/L value is applicable to a lifetime consuming the water and shorter duration exposures present less risk. The Town is currently advancing designs for a permanent treatment solution for the water supply.
- If you have specific health concerns regarding your past exposure, you should see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s link and consult a health professional, such as your doctor.
Steps you can take to reduce your intake: For older children and adults (not in a sensitive subgroup), the 20 ng/L value is applicable to a lifetime of consuming the water. For these groups, shorter duration exposures present less risk. However, if you are concerned about your exposure while steps are being taken to assess and lower the PFAS6 concentration in the drinking water, consider taking the following steps:
- Use of bottled water may reduce your exposure. MassDEP reports which bottled water companies have tested for PFAS6 in their water. See a list of DEP certified bottlers here - https://www.mass.gov/doc/bottled-water-tested-for-pfas
- Use of Home water treatment systems may reduce your exposure – however, many home-treatment systems were developed to meet the USEPA 70 ng/L Health Advisory, not the MassDEP’s newer, stricter 20 ng/L MCL. Accordingly, Sharon cannot independently verify whether a given manufacturer’s at-home-system meets the DEP regulation.
In most situations, the water can be safely used for washing foods, brushing teeth, bathing, and showering.
Please note: Boiling the water will not destroy PFAS6 and will somewhat increase its level due to evaporation of some of the water.
WHAT IS THE SHARON WATER DEPARTMENT DOING IN RESPONSE TO THESE NEW REGULATIONS?
The Sharon Water Department has taken the following proactive measures:
As soon as the Sharon Water Department received notice of the elevated results at Well 4, pumping from this well was immediately stopped. This well will not be brought back on line and restarted until suitable treatment is installed. Residents will be notified immediately if or when this source is brought back on line.
The flushing program that had been underway was immediately suspended. Since that time, daily demand has been met by our remaining wells. However, as we enter the summer season, we anticipate having to implement very strict irrigation system use restrictions.
MEDIUM TERM (ONGOING):
PFAS monitoring and the study of PFAS treatment options are ongoing.
The Sharon Water Department has hired an engineering firm to determine how to best remove PFAS contaminants from our drinking water for the immediate future. The preliminary results of that study recommend the installation of PFAS ion exchange filter treatment plant at Well 4. The Town is actively working on the implementation of this treatment plant as quickly as possible using Water Department reserve funds.
Prior to the promulgation of DEP’s new regulation, the Town of Sharon reached an agreement with the Town of Norwood for access to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority reserves in the event of an emergency and started construction of a pump station and bypass water main. Construction of the pumping station is nearing completion, but will not be available for this summer.
Our public water system will continue monthly sampling of all sources/wells entering our distribution system. We will keep you informed by providing quarterly notices of all monitoring and our short and long-term plans and efforts to meet the PFAS6 MCL and reduce PFAS exposure.
Design and permitting of a permanent treatment facility is proceeding. Fortunately, the Sharon Water Department has sufficient reserves to implement final design and construction of this permanent PFAS treatment plant. However, we will pursue additional funds on both the Commonwealth and Federal level for construction to offset costs.
Q: What well or wells supply my area?
A: All of our wells combine and mix in our distribution system, the water mains and water storage tanks. However, a larger percentage of water will come from the well closest to you. Here are the 6 wells that supply drinking water for Sharon:
- Mass DEP Fact Sheet - Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - Home Water Treatment Devices - Point of Entry and Point of Use Drinking Water Treatment
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health- Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Drinking Water
- NSF Certified Water Filters
- Mass DEP information about PFAS
- US EPA information about PFAS
- CDC ATSDR information about PFAS
- Association of State Drinking Water Administrators
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