Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of fluorinated organic chemicals that do not occur naturally in the environment. PFAS chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) have been manufactured the longest, is the most widespread in the environment and are the most well-studied. These chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, furniture fabric, food packaging, cookware, and other materials that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. They are also used in certain firefighting foams and in a number of industrial processes. Due to the widespread use of these chemicals, most people have been exposed.
For more information on PFAS, its sources, routes of exposure, and health effects see EPA’s basic information web page.
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While consumer products and food are a large source of PFAS exposure, drinking water can be an additional source in a small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies. For example, certain communities in the American Midwest and East Coast have higher concentrations of PFAS due to historical industrial practices.
PFAS chemicals can enter drinking water in many ways. For example, some industrial sites discharge PFAS in wastewater, which may ultimately enter ground or surface waters. At unlined landfills, water can seep through discarded consumer goods, industrial materials, biosolids, and more, potentially carrying PFAS from these materials to drinking water sources.
Adverse health effects from PFAS depend on the level and length of exposure, age, lifestyle, and health of the consumer. Adverse health effects may include:
- Developmental effects in fetuses or breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, and skeletal variations)
- Cancer (e.g., testicular and kidney)
- Liver effects (e.g., tissue damage)
- Immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity)
- Thyroid effects
- Other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes)
To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations such as children and pregnant women, with a margin of protection from exposure to PFAS in drinking water, EPA established health advisory levels for both PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt), combined. When either of these two chemicals is found in drinking water, the combined concentrations should be compared with the health advisory level.
EPA’s combined health advisory level of 70 ppt was developed based on drinking water consumption of pregnant women, who generally drink more water than other people. The health advisory offers protection against adverse health effects for the most sensitive populations including developing fetuses, breastfed infants, and other children regardless of age and length of exposure. Learn more about EPA’s health advisory information for PFOA and PFOS on the agency’s website.
Idaho has not seen widespread detections of PFAS chemicals. However, that does not mean PFAS aren’t present in Idaho’s drinking water sources or other environmental media such as soil and air.
PFAS is not currently regulated by the EPA under the national primary drinking water standards. On January 19, 2021, EPA announced final regulatory determinations for PFOS and PFOA under its PFAS Action Plan. Regulatory determinations can take years before they become national primary drinking water standards. Since Idaho only adopts final national primary drinking water standards, PFAS is not currently regulated in Idaho and public water systems are not required to monitor for the contaminant. DEQ will provide updates to public water systems on the regulatory status of PFAS as it becomes relevant to their operations. Even though PFAS is not required to be monitored on a regular basis there have been drinking water-related PFAS monitoring efforts in Idaho. Information on prior and current PFAS monitoring efforts in Idaho related to drinking water sources can be found below.
Some public water systems in Idaho were required to participate in EPA’s third round of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. The monitoring conducted under this program did not yield any PFAS detections. Information and results from the third round of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) can be found on EPA’s UCMR3 website.
The fifth round of the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) fulfills a key commitment in EPA’s PFAS Action Plan by including the collection of drinking water occurrence data for a broader group of PFAS, building on the monitoring for six PFAS that took place under UCMR 3. EPA’s UCMR5 includes testing for all 29 PFAS that are within the scope of EPA Methods 533 and 537.1
Department of Defense Sampling
Military installations across the United States have undergone PFAS monitoring led by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD performed assessments at Edgemeade TS Mountain Home, Gowen Field Boise/Airport Training Area, and Orchard MATES Boise. Of these three facilities, detections were found at Edgemeade TS Mountain Home and Gowen Field Boise/Airport Training Area. For more information on DoD’s PFAS monitoring efforts visit the department’s web page.
Voluntary Public Water System Sampling
Some public water systems have voluntarily conducted PFAS monitoring to better inform system owners and operators of any PFAS contamination issues within the system. DEQ encourages public water systems and private well owners to test their drinking water for PFAS if they are concerned.
DEQ received federal grant funds in the federal fiscal year 2020 and will use them to further evaluate the potential presence of PFAS in Idaho’s public drinking water systems. The funding will be used to conduct voluntary sampling from public water systems across the state that utilize either ground water and/or surface water sources. Samples collected will be analyzed using EPA method 533, which focuses on short chain PFAS compounds with carbon chain lengths of four to 12. All prior analysis in Idaho has been conducted under EPA method 537.1. Method 533 will allow DEQ to analyze for 11 additional PFAS analytes that have not previously been screened in the state.
Systems selected for sampling were prioritized based on available data and information on current and historical land uses, environmental features, proximity to potential PFAS sources, and other factors. Sampling and analysis will start in the spring of 2021 and will continue until funding is exhausted. Results from the DEQ-led sampling effort can be viewed on Drinking Water Watch. On the Drinking Water Watch website, enter the name or number of the public water system you are interested in, click “Search for Water Systems,” then select “Chem/Rad Samples/Results by Analyte” and navigate to the analyte you are interested in, identified by a four digit analyte code.
What can I do to protect myself?
If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, review EPA’s list of laboratories that provide PFAS testing or contact your DEQ Regional Office Compliance Officer for more information. Tell the lab you want to test your drinking water for PFAS. We recommend ensuring the lab is certified for either Method 533 or 537.1 and that you contact multiple labs to obtain quotes. Single sample analysis may cost between $300 and $500 or more. After receiving results, homeowners should check that combined PFOA and PFOS results are below 70 parts per trillion. If you have any PFAS detections, DEQ requests that you contact your DEQ regional office to share the results. Sharing detection results will help DEQ assess future sampling efforts in the state.
What if PFAS is found in my drinking water?
If you learn that your drinking water contains PFOS and PFOA above the combined health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion, whether or not you are on a well or being served by a public water system, DEQ recommends you consider other sources of water for drinking, cooking foods where water is absorbed or consumed (like rice and soup), and preparing baby formula. PFOA and PFOS cannot be removed by heating or boiling water.
Other sources of water include bottled water or water treated at your home by a point of use treatment system designed to treat for PFAS that is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). If you or your family are concerned about your health or have symptoms you think may be caused by PFAS exposure, contact your healthcare provider.
Guidance for discussing PFAS with your healthcare provider and guidance for clinicians on the health effects of PFAS are available on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s website.