Westport Health Notes: Tackling PSFAs here

By Tanja Ryden, Board of Health
Posted 4/23/24

Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH).   This month we are talking about PFAS, known as “forever”’ chemicals, their health …

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Westport Health Notes: Tackling PSFAs here


Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH).  This month we are talking about PFAS, known as “forever”’ chemicals, their health risks and how to minimize your exposure.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used in making thousands of common consumer goods. PFAS have been used on a variety of materials to make them water, oil, and stain repellant, and can be found in commercial household products, common food storage containers, and numerous other sources. PFAS stay in the environment for a long time and do not break down easily. Many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals and are present at low levels in a variety of foods and in the environment.

PFAS in drinking water is an important emerging issue across the country due to the health risks associated with these chemicals. Because PFAS are water soluble, over time they seep into soils from manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, firefighting foam and other releases, accumulating in groundwater and contaminating drinking water. Negative health effects in humans exposed to high levels of PFAS may include kidney, cardiovascular, hormone, immune, reproductive, and developmental problems.

Recent testing by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) detected unsafe levels of PFAS in businesses along Route 6 and in multiple homes in north Westport. In addition, several public water supplies at businesses on Main Road have shown high levels of PFAS and must provide employees with bottled water. To help address part of the problem in the north end, the town recently received a $4 million grant to put in a new water line down further on Route 6 and in a loop to the Macomber School. There will be no betterment cost for homes on the water line, although homeowners will need to pay for connecting from the stub to their home. 

On April 10, 2024, EPA announced its updated drinking water regulation, which established very strict Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for six PFAS chemicals.  The current Massachusetts regulations, which established a PFAS6 MCL of 20 parts per trillion (ppt), will need to revised to meet the stricter federal standard within two years and public drinking water supplies will need to meet these new standards by then. If you take a look at all other standards for other chemicals in drinking water, they are measured in parts per billion or parts per million. The fact that PFAS is measured in ppt, gives you a sense of really how toxic these chemicals are.

If you are on a private well and are concerned about possible PFAS contamination, there are several certified labs that will test your drinking water for PFAS. The tests are not cheap because many materials normally used laboratory operations contain PFAS and cannot be used. For example, Rhode Island Analytical charges $400 to test for PFAS in a drinking water and recommended quality control sample.  Water contaminated with PFAS6 can be treated by some home water treatment systems that are certified to remove PFAS6 by an independent testing group such as NSF, UL, or Water Quality Association. These may include point of entry (POE) systems, which treat all the water entering a home, or point of use (POU) devices, which treat water where it is used, such as at a faucet. For more information visit the state website at: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/pfas-in-private-well-drinking-water-supplies-faq

Drinking water accounts for only part of the general public's PFAS exposure — state scientists assume it's about 20 percemt. That means 80 percent of the PFAS in humans likely comes from other unregulated (or barely regulated) sources, like food, packaging and consumer products.

So, what can you do to reduce your exposure to PFAS? 

Food packaging:  To limit exposure, it is recommended that you transfer food out of fast-food packaging as soon as you can and avoid reheating food in takeout containers, because both heat and time increase the likelihood of PFAS transferring from wrappers to food. Many experts suggest avoiding microwave popcorn because the bags that contain it tend to have high levels of PFAS.

Fabrics and Textiles: PFAS are often found in stain- and water-resistant fabrics. Carpets, furniture, and clothing can all contain PFAS. When purchasing new carpets or furniture, choose retailers that have policies restricting the use of PFAS.

Cosmetics: Cosmetics frequently contain PFAS. Avoiding water-resistant products and products with PTFE or “fluoro-” in the ingredients can help limit exposure.

Cookware: Most nonstick cookware is made with PTFE, a type of PFAS. Consider switching to ceramic, cast iron or steel pans.

PFAS in Dust and Water: To avoid harmful chemicals in dust, use a HEPA filter when vacuuming, dust with wet cloths or a mop, and changing filters on your heating and cooling units as recommended.

If you have questions you’d like answered or suggestions for future topics, please email the BOH at health@westport-ma.gov.


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