Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances

What we know so far

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently published information that Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a class of persistent chemicals, could lead to adverse health effects. No maximum contaminant levels have been established by the agency and DEQ is following developments closely.

  • EPA has indicated that it plans to add PFOA and PFOS to the list of Superfund Hazardous Substances. The agency is working to establish drinking water standards, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), as well as both groundwater and soil sampling methods.
  • As of September 2019, Congress has been considering legislative options to address PFAS concerns nationwide.    
  • DEQ has established a PFAS working group to help provide information as it becomes available and is supporting EPA, following their lead on PFAS strategies as they unfold.

Are there any sites in Virginia impacted by PFAS?

Yes, Fentress Air Base (Fentress), Oceana Naval Air Station (Virginia Beach), Northwest Annex (Chesapeake), NASA Wallops Island, and DuPont Spruance (Richmond) have found the chemicals at their sites.

Background

What is PFAS?
PFAS are man-made chemicals, manufactured and used around the globe since 1940. Studies show the chemicals persist in the environment and human body.

Is PFAS dangerous?
None of these substances are presently listed as a hazardous substance by EPA, but the agency said they can lead to adverse human health effects. The EPA states that only two of over 3,000 PFAS (PFAS and PFOA) compounds have lifetime health advisory values of 70 parts per trillion. One part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of impurity in 21 million gallons of water.

Why are PFAS of concern?
Distributed globally in the environment, they can travel great distances in water systems. The average residence time in the human body is about five years. It seems that the primary target organ is the liver.

Where do I encounter PFAS?
PFAS are used worldwide in many consumer products, including shampoo, paints, fast food packaging, firefighting foam and non-stick cookware, among others.

Are PFAS chemicals still being produced?
No; however, they are still being used internationally and can be imported into the U.S. in consumer goods. The last time the manufacturing of PFOS in the U.S. was reported to EPA was in 2002, and the PFOA Stewardship Program was established by the agency in 2006. More information can be found here.

How can PFAS be removed?
Granular active carbon – the granular, dark-colored material most often seen in water filters and aquarium filter systems – is the most common method. However, reverse osmosis and ion exchange are also being considered.

Other sources of information

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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