Bio-accumulative PFAS can be found at varying levels in public and private drinking water sources—impacting water quality in homes across the US. In March of 2023, the EPA announced proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) with limits for PFAS materials in drinking water. Unsurprisingly, PFAS has taken over the water industry conversation for much of 2023—and we expect it to continue throughout the year. However, understanding the impact of these proposed standards to your product portfolio requires an understanding of PFAS as a chemical group beyond the pop culture references of Erin Brockovich and Dark Water.
PFAS can be present in our water, everyday products, and environment. This includes:
- Both public and private drinking water systems
- Soil and water near waste sites like landfills and hazardous waste sites
- Manufacturing facilities that produce or use PFAS
- Food sources like fish or dairy from exposed livestock
- Household and personal care products
According to the CDC, most people in the US have been exposed to PFAS at low levels. However, there are cases where people have been exposed to elevated levels of PFAS for a long time, often from drinking water sources, which leads to long-term health issues in the surrounding community.
With the high public awareness around the dangers of PFAS and pending EPA regulations around drinking water limits, it can be confusing to distinguish the risks in designing with this widely used material. Particularly in the case of UV systems as one PFAS in particular—PTFE—offers high reflectance to UV.
Let’s look at an overview of PFAS and this broad category of materials.
PFAS refers to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances—a group of chemicals made up primarily of carbon and fluorine with a few other elements. Often labeled as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are characterized by a chain of carbon and fluorine atoms with strong bonds—making them difficult to degrade.
They are classified into two groups—non-polymers and polymers. Polymers are believed to be relatively safe as they're chemically stable under standard pressure and temperature. They are found in non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and other everyday items. PTFE falls into this category of PFAS materials.
Non-polymers are those likely to cause health problems and can be long- or short-chain substances. The long-chain materials are widely banned around the world and include PFOA and PFOS. Short-chain materials are relatively newer and include 6:2 FTOH, GenX and C6. Although not widely banned, they are thought to pose health risks.