PFAS Explained

What are PFAS?

PFAS is an acronym that stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and represents a group of more than 5,000 chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. 

PFAS have unique physical properties that make them resistant to high temperatures, water, and stains. They have been used widely in manufacturing consumer goods, clothing, non-stick cookware, food wrappings, furniture, carpets, textiles, firefighting foams, and cosmetics. They remain in use for a variety of industrial processes. While most people are exposed to PFAS through consumer products and food, drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in the small percentage of communities where PFAS chemicals have contaminated the public water supply. 

Because PFAS are man-made and extremely difficult to break down and dispose of, they have often been referred to as “forever chemicals.” Although there are currently thousands of PFAS compounds in use, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has prioritized research on a small number of these substances that may have health effects at very low concentrations. 

What are PFOA and PFOS?

PFOA and PFOS are two PFAS compounds believed to have adverse health effects at very low concentrations. Because of their properties, manufacturers voluntarily phased out PFOA and PFOS in the mid-2000s. However, PFOA and PFOS can still be imported to the U.S. in consumer goods. Manufacturers have developed numerous other PFAS chemicals to try to replace them. Some of these replacement compounds are also being investigated for their possible public health impacts.

What action is being taken by the EPA to regulate PFAS?

The EPA develops drinking water health advisories to provide information on contaminants that have the potential to cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. These health advisories are intended to provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. These advisories are not enforceable or regulatory, but they are often used as a first step toward new drinking water regulations.

In 2009, EPA published its first health advisories for PFOA and PFOS based on the evidence available at that time. In 2016, the EPA updated the advisories and established more stringent health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS concentrations. 

The latest EPA health advisory level update was published in June 2022. The health advisory levels for four PFAS compounds were significantly lowered from levels that were previously established in 2016 (see below). 

EPA Health Advisory Levels

PFAs Compound20162022
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)70 ppt*0.004 ppt
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid  (PFOS)70 ppt0.02 ppt
Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS)n/a2,000 ppt
Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (GenX)n/a10 ppt
*ppt=part per trillion

Health advisory levels are measured in parts per trillion. For illustration, one part per trillion, ppt, is approximately equal to one grain of sand in an Olympic-size swimming pool. The levels for PFOA and PFOS are shown to be 0.004 ppt and 0.020 ppt respectively. Stated otherwise, the levels of PFOA and PFOS are 4 and 20 parts per quadrillion, ppq.

The health advisory levels have caused some controversy because the EPA has acknowledged that technologies do not yet exist to accurately measure ppq levels; ppq testing has an error rate of up to 50%.

For more information about the EPA’s latest PFAS health advisories, visit epa.gov/sdwa/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos.

Later in 2023, the EPA is expected to announce proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels, MCLs for PFOA and PFOS. These are the drinking water standards that would govern drinking water treatment. The announcement is the first step in a public process to determine if the proposed MCLs should become the final drinking water standards. We will update this webpage following the EPA's announcement.

What are PFAS levels in the City of Batavia’s water?

The mission of the City of Batavia’s water utility is to continuously deliver safe and abundant drinking water with a pledge to maintain honesty and integrity at all times.

In November of 2022, the City of Batavia decided to conduct a proactive round of water analysis to help the city gain important information about its drinking water ahead of EPA actions slated to take effect in 2023. In the spring of 2023, the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) will begin being implemented. Under UCMR 5, most of the nation’s water utilities, including Batavia, will be required to test for twenty-nine (29) different PFAS compounds, as well as lithium, through 2025. This monitoring will provide new data to improve the EPA’s understanding of the frequency that 29 PFAS and lithium are found in the nation’s drinking water and at what levels.

For more information about the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Rule, visit epa.gov/dwucmr/fifth-unregulated-contaminant-monitoring-rule

While not required by any state or federal regulatory agency, Batavia tested for the 29 PFAS compounds covered under the EPA’s UCMR 5 process. The analysis, conducted by an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab, found non-detection levels for 24 PFAS compounds, including PFOA and PFOS. A non-detection level means that a substance was not found in the water above the reliable limits of the test, in this case, two parts per trillion. 

The testing did find minute parts per trillion levels for five PFAS compounds. The EPA does not have health advisories for four of the compounds, all of which were found near or below one part per trillion levels. The fifth compound, PFBA, was found at a level of 1.53 parts per trillion. The EPA health advisory level for PFBA is 2,000 parts per trillion.  

What is the City of Batavia doing about its PFAS findings?

Based on the November 2022  results, the City of Batavia is not taking additional treatment actions at this time. Batavia will conduct testing to ensure compliance with the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule UCMR 5 through 2025. The findings will be evaluated to ensure Batavia’s water supply complies with all EPA regulations, and we will report our UCMR 5 findings in future Water Quality Reports. 

In addition to the UCMR 5 testing, Batavia will continue to work with state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as leading industry organizations, regarding ongoing research and new regulations; promote open communication regarding PFAS; and examine strategies to address the EPA’s proposed drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.

What can I do to reduce my exposure to PFAS?

Due to their widespread use in consumer products, it is difficult to completely avoid exposure to all sources of PFAS. However, there are several steps you can take to reduce your PFAS exposure. Start by minimizing your use of non-stick, stain-resistant, or waterproof products that are commonly made with PFAS compounds. Some sources of potential consumption of PFAS include:

  • Non-stick cookware. Instead of non-stick cookware, opt for ceramic, stainless steel, or cast iron. If the coating on your non-stick cookware begins to peel, do not use it.
  • Fast food containers and processed food packaging like French fry cartons, pizza boxes, and microwave popcorn bags.
  • Stain-resistant carpets, rugs, and furniture. Avoid using optional stain-resistant sprays and treatments on home textiles.
  • Waterproof clothing like rain jackets, gloves, and boots. Avoid using optional waterproofing sprays on clothing and footwear. Although there is little risk from having skin contact with these products – since PFAS don’t easily absorb into skin – they may shed fibers that can be inhaled or swallowed.
  • Cosmetics and personal care products. Read the ingredients on cosmetics and personal care products, like dental floss, and look for words beginning with “fluoro-”, “perfluoro-”, or “polyfluoro-”.
  • Drinking water. While the City of Batavia’s PFAS levels do not require additional treatment at this time, if you are concerned about Batavia’s findings, you can consider installing a whole-house reverse osmosis unit or using a point-of-use filter that contains a certified carbon filter. If you use bottled water, check the label to verify that it has been treated using reverse osmosis. Boiling your water will not remove PFAS compounds; these compounds are unaffected by heat.
  • Dust the surfaces in your home often to reduce PFAS dust from products like carpet, upholstery, and clothing that were manufactured or treated with PFAS to resist staining and repel water. 

Where can I find more information about PFAS?

US Environmental Protection Agency: epa.gov/pfas

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency: illinois.gov/epa/topics/water-quality/pfas/Pages/default.aspx 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html