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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances are a group of chemical compounds called PFAS. Two PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), were extensively produced and are the most studied and regulated of these chemicals. Several other PFAS that are similar to PFOS and PFOA exist. These PFAS are contained in some firefighting foams used to extinguish oil and gas fires. They have also been used in a number of industrial processes and to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease and stains. Because these chemicals have been used in many consumer products, most people have been exposed to them. While consumer products and food are the largest source of exposure to these chemicals for most people, drinking water can be an additional 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 airfield at which they were used for firefighting or a facility where these chemicals were produced or used.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, 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.
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.
In order to understand what a chemical measurement means, one needs to have a basic understanding of the type of measuring units used, and what they mean. As mentioned above, most of our contaminants are measured using concentration units such as ppm and ppb. But what is a ppm, ppb, or ppt for that matter, in plain English?
As an example, let’s use an example of liquid chlorine added to our water in the treatment process at 1.0 ppm. This value refers to one part of chemical (in this case liquid chlorine) found in one million parts of our water. To realize how small a value this actually is and how difficult this contaminate is to trace in the environment, read the analogies listed below:
One part per million (ppm) equals:
One part per billion (ppb) equals:
One part per trillion (ppt) equals:
Specific questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with “PFAS” in the subject line.
Water Quality reports are available on our website by visiting the our Water Quality Page
For information on the PFAS6 drinking water standard see: 310 CMR 22.00: The Massachusetts Drinking Water Regulations. For more information about the technical details behind the MMCL, see MassDEP’s technical support document here.