Exposure to PFCs
People are most likely to be exposed to PFCs by ingesting them, including by:
- Drinking contaminated water
- Eating food that may contain high levels of PFCs (e.g., fish and shellfish)
- Eating food contaminated by packaging materials containing PFCs (e.g., popcorn bags, fast food containers, pizza boxes)
- Hand-to-mouth transfer from surfaces treated with PFC-containing stain protectants, such as carpets, which is thought to be most significant in infants and toddlers
On May 19, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published drinking water Health Advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). These Health Advisories present guideline concentrations for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water that provide a conservative margin of protection from possible adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure; the Health Advisories do not represent definitive cutoffs between safe or unsafe levels. PFOA and PFOS are the only two PFCs for which the EPA has developed health advisory levels in drinking water.
Certain PFCs have been phased out of industrial and commercial use in the United States, including PFOA and PFOS. PFOA, for example, should no longer be found in food packaging; however, these PFCs can still be found in home products and as contaminants in the environment. Also, the products that PFOA and PFOS have been removed from may contain other types of PFCs.
These EPA drinking water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS advise that if a person’s drinking water contains levels of PFOA and/or PFOS, either individually or combined, above 70 parts per trillion (ppt) that they should not consume the water or use it in preparing food, brushing teeth, or any activity that might result in ingestion of water. The EPA expects that these recommended drinking water levels should be safe for all individuals including babies exposed during pregnancy, nursing infants, and children, even if these water levels are consumed over a person’s lifetime.
To reduce exposure to PFCs, families can limit their use of consumer products that may contain PFCs. These include:
- Greasy or oily food that comes packaged in material that may use PFC-containing grease-repellent liners, such as microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, and pizza boxes.
- Stain-resistant sprays that may contain PFCs such as those used on furniture, carpets, and clothing.
- Other products with the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro” in their ingredients list.
Additionally, because PFCs can easily contaminate ground water, residents with drinking water supplied by private wells can have their water tested for PFCs if there is suspicion for PFC contamination. Residents with private wells contaminated by PFOS and PFOA above the EPA’s Health Advisory levels should find an alternate source of drinking water or install point-of-use treatment devices to filter their tap water.
For more information about water testing and treatment options and about reducing PFC exposure through drinking water, review the recommendations found on the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) website.