Editor's Note: Every week, we'll share tips on how to live a happier, healthier life.
The Cable News Network, better known as CNN, was founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. It was the first channel to provide 24-hour news coverage, and is now available in over 200 countries.CNN was founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. It was the first channel to provide 24-hour news coverage, and is now available in over 200 countries.
Over the next three years, the drinking water in the United States may become safer from potentially toxic chemicals that have been found in the blood of 98% of Americans.
PFAS are a family of thousands of man-made chemicals that do not break down easily in the environment. A number of PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, fertility issues, high cholesterol, hormone disruption, liver damage, obesity and thyroid disease.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed on Tuesday stringent new limits on levels of six PFAS chemicals in public water systems. Under the proposed rule, public systems that provide water to at least 15 service connections or 25 people will have three years to implement testing procedures, begin notifying the public about PFAS levels, and reduce levels if above the new standard, the EPA said.
The EPA said that the two most well-studied and potentially toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, cannot exceed 4 parts per trillion in drinking water, compared with a previous health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
"The EPA is using a hazard index calculation to determine whether the levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk," said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group. "This is a tool the EPA uses to address the cumulative risks from all four of those chemicals."
"The EPA action is a really important and historic step forward," said Benesh. "While the proposed regulations only address a few PFAS, they are important marker chemicals. I think requiring water systems to test and treat for these six will actually do a lot to address other PFAS that are in the water as well."
regularly is the best way to ensure that it is free of harmful bacteria
The best way to ensure that your water is free of harmful bacteria is to test it regularly.
What can consumers do now to limit the levels of PFAS in their drinking water if they are concerned about exposure?
First, David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group suggests looking up levels of PFAS in your local public water system. The advocacy nonprofit has created a national tap water database searchable by zip code that lists PFAS and other concerning chemicals, as well as a national map that illustrates where PFAS has been detected in the US.
"However, many rural residents rely on wells for water," said Andrews. "Anyone who wants to personally test their water can purchase a test online or from a certified lab."
"Ensuring the testing method can detect down to at least four parts per trillion or lower of PFAS is the most important thing," he said. "There are a large number of labs across the country certified to test to that level, so there are a lot of options available."
It is important to filter your water
If levels of contaminants in your water are concerning, you can purchase a water filter for your tap. The NSF, formerly the National Sanitation Foundation, has a list of recommended filters.
"Reverse osmosis filters are the most effective for PFAS," said Andrews. "They're more expensive, about $200." Reverse osmosis filters can remove a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved solids, by forcing water through various filters.
He said that granular activated carbon filters are more common and less expensive, but not quite as effective or consistent for PFAS. However, they can remove a large number of other contaminants.
A reverse osmosis filter can effectively remove potentially toxic chemicals from your drinking water.
Andrews explained that reverse osmosis systems use both carbon-based filters and reverse osmosis membranes. The water passes through the carbon filter before entering the membrane.
"It's important to keep changing your filters," he said. "If you don't, the levels of PFAS in your filtered water can actually be higher than in the tap water."
He added that carbon filters are typically replaced every six months, while the reverse osmosis filter is replaced on a five-year time frame, but the cost is relatively comparable over their lifetime.
"Many of the filters that work for PFAS also filter other contaminants in water," said Andrews.
The challenge in removing PFAS from drinking water is twofold. First, there is no single "silver bullet" solution that will work for all PFAS. Second, because PFAS are spread throughout the environment and are very persistent, it is difficult and expensive to remove them from water.The challenges of removing PFAS from drinking water are twofold. First, finding a solution that will work for all PFAS. Second, because PFAS are spread throughout the environment and are very persistent, removing them from water is difficult and expensive.
Although drinking water is not the only way PFAS enters the bloodstream, it is still a major contributor. Other ways PFAS can enter the bloodstream are through the use of many products we purchase, including nonstick cookware, infection-resistant surgical gowns and drapes, mobile phones, semiconductors, commercial aircraft, and low-emissions vehicles.
According to a report, the chemicals are also used to make carpeting, clothing, furniture, and food packaging resistant to stains, water and grease damage. Once treated, the report said, textiles emit PFAS over the course of their lifetimes, escaping into the air and groundwater in homes and communities.
PFAS are made from a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms that do not readily degrade in the environment. They are known as 'forever chemicals' because their long half life in the human body means it can take some PFAS years to completely leave the body, according to a 2022 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
"Some of these chemicals have half-lives in the range of five years," National Academies committee member Jane Hoppin, an environmental epidemiologist and director of the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told CNN.
In 10 years, you would still have 2.5 nanograms,'
'Even if you were to stop all exposure to PFAS today, you would still have residual amounts in your body for years to come,'
'In five years, you would have 2.5 nanograms and then, five years after that, you'd have 1.25 nanograms,' she continued. 'It would be about 25 years before all the PFAS leave your body.'
The National Academies report from 2022 set the level of concern at 'nanograms' and encouraged clinicians to conduct blood tests on patients who were worried about exposure or who were at a high risk. (A nanogram is equivalent to one-billionth of a gram.)
So are firefighters, workers in fluorochemical manufacturing plants, and those who live near commercial airports, military bases, landfills, incinerators, wastewater treatment plants and farms where contaminated sewage sludge is used, the report said.
The PFAS-REACH project, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, offers the following advice on how to avoid PFAS at home and in products: