Dec 07, 2022
"Forever chemicals" found in cookware, clothes and cosmetics are becoming a growing concern for local utilities
WHAT IS PFAS?
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances. These chemicals are typically used to make products waterproof or nonstick and can be found in a range of items like cookware, lipstick and firefighting spray.
Because of their prevalence, there is growing concern about the impact PFAS has on the environment and human health. In fact, PFAS are now being referred to as “forever chemicals” since research proves they do not break down but rather accumulate overtime with continued exposure.
Studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to reproductive effects, developmental delays in children, increased risk of some cancers and other health problems.
As research expands our knowledge of these chemicals, new regulations are being proposed that may impact local water and solid waste utilities.
Currently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has set maximum contaminant limits for PFAS that apply to public drinking water systems. In fact, New Jersey’s limits are among the strictest in the U.S.
At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing even stricter limits for drinking water. There is also an effort to designate these as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, which would impact wastewater and solid waste utilities.
While these efforts are intended to keep citizens safe from the dangers of PFAS, it remains to be seen if manufacturers of the chemicals will be responsible for their removal or if the onus will be placed on local utilities.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
As active stewards of the environment, the ACUA is working closely with other utilities across the state through the Association of Environmental Authorities (AEA) to learn and share information on the developing issue of PFAS.
While NJ drinking water utilities are already required to test for PFAS, the proposed federal limits would require a much more refined testing process.
“The type of testing needed to identify the proposed EPA limits does not even exist currently,” said ACUA Vice President of Wastewater Joseph Pantalone. “That’s why it’s critical that we work together to advocate for more guidance and communication that will help utilities moving forward.”
Pantalone sits on the AEA PFAS committee and is working with others across the county and state to ensure utilities are equipped to handle the expected implications of regulatory changes. The group is currently
recommending that utilities measure PFAS beyond requirements to stay ahead of the curve.
“PFAS is a developing issue that will continue to grow in importance in our industry,” said Pantalone. “On the positive side, the issue is bringing attention to the impact our everyday products and behaviors have on
Municipalities seeking more information are encouraged to join the AEA PFAS Group. Visit visit www.aeanj.org or contact Joseph Pantalone by calling ACUA at 609.272.6950.
THE PFAS CYCLE
This graph from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) drives home the interconnectedness of our actions.
Chemicals like PFAS pass through the environment from everyday actions like cooking and washing clothes. PFAS can also come directly from chemical plants or when spray foam is used to put out fires.
The landfill and wastewater treatment plants are two places where most waste ends up, which is why PFAS regulations are being proposed on these entities.
Avoid Nonstick Cookware
WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME
Nonstick cookware likely contains PFAS that can contaminate your food. Opt for stainless steel whenever possible. If you must use nonstick cookware, lower the heat to reduce PFAS exposure. Also, make sure to keep your pans intact. Scrubbing too hard can damage the coating, making it easier for the chemicals to leak into your food.
Find out what's in your makeup and body products.
PFAS is commonly used in waterproof mascara, lipsticks and other makeup products that are made to be long-lasting. The Skin Deep database helps consumers research chemicals in products (ewg.org/skindeep).
Avoid stain-resistant material.
Couches or carpets with stain-resistant coatings likely contain PFAS. Opt for wipeable or washable fabrics instead.
Avoid bagged popcorn.
Microwavable popcorn bags are usually lined with a coating that contains PFAS. Opt for kernels and pop on the stove.
Avoid fast food.
Fast food wrappers often contain PFAS that repel oils. Avoid whenever possible.
Ask companies to do better.
There are many organizations working to change the chemicals companies use in our everyday products. Research an environmental organization and see how you can get involved in the effort.
Local utilities and environmental organizations are working together to keep citizens safe and informed. Contact us to find out what we're doing to monitor and respond to PFAS.
Association of Environmental Authorities (AEA)
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Clean Water Action