Understanding PFAS: The "Forever Chemicals" Impacting Our Daily Lives

PFAS have become a significant topic of concern in recent years due to their ubiquitous presence in various consumer products, as well as the potentially harmful effects they can have on human health and the environment. In this article we will dive into the world of PFAS to define what they are, where they are found, and understand their impact on our daily lives. Further, we will review the UCMR5 rule and how compliance with the rule can significantly reduce the detrimental impacts PFAS can have.

What is PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as “PFAS,” form a diverse group of synthetic chemicals used since the 1940s. These chemicals were initially developed to serve various industrial and commercial purposes. Due to their remarkable resistance to environmental factors such as heat, water, and oil, as well as their chemical inertness, these chemicals quickly became indispensable for both military and civilian applications. Today, they are found in a wide range of commercial and household products, including well-known brands like TeflonTM and ScotchGardTM. Interestingly, in the past, scientists used the abbreviation “PFC” to refer to perfluorinated chemicals, so you might still encounter materials using the term “PFC” instead of PFAS.

Everyday Products Containing “Forever Chemicals”
Over time, PFAS have earned the nickname “forever chemicals” due to its resistance to degradation, which causes them to accumulate in the environment and living organisms over time. Forever chemicals are often present in products designed to resist water, heat, and oil, such as non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. Other common sources of PFAS exposure include certain types of stain-resistant furniture & carpeting, microwave popcorn bags, bakery bags, pizza boxes, French-fry containers, cosmetics, dental floss, and nail polish. Even bamboo and paper straws have been found to contain more PFAS than plastic straws!

Since PFAS, particularly PFOS, can end up in water through various pathways such as manufacturing & industrial processes, firefighting foam, and landfills & waste disposal sites, they can affect a significant portion of the population. When these chemicals contaminate water sources, they can accumulate in fish as well as food grown nearby, making them harmful to consume.

To address this issue, the UCMR5 rule was put into effect by the federal government to monitor drinking water contaminants and take action to remove them from our water sources.

UCMR5 Rule and Compliance

The Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR5) is a federal program aimed at monitoring drinking water contaminants, including PFAS. Laboratories participating in UCMR5 must adhere to stringent quality assurance and quality control procedures and criteria outlined in the program’s methods and rules. If samples collected are not extracted or analyzed within the method specifications for hold times, processing times, temperature requirements, and reporting frequencies the results can become skewed and unreliable data, requiring additional samples to be collected for accuracy.

Challenges of Complying with UCMR5

Compliance with UCMR5 does not come without its challenges. Some challenges in maintaining compliance are:
Method Interferences: Contaminants in solvents, reagents, sample bottles, caps, and other common laboratory supplies can cause method interferences. These supplies must be tested and proven to be PFAS-free before use.
Sample Verification: Laboratories must verify the preservation and dechlorination of each sample on the same day of receipt or within 2 days of collection.
Resampling: In cases of sampling or laboratory errors that prevent the reporting of valid data, a resample must be collected within 30-days of the Public Water System (PWS) being notified of the error. Prompt communication is crucial, as resamples can only be issued prior to the next scheduled sampling event for the PWS.

The Impact of PFAS
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed consistent correlations between PFAS exposure, especially PFOA, and elevated cholesterol levels, certain cancers, obesity, and immune suppression in humans. In animals, some PFAS have been found to be toxic to the liver, endocrine system, reproductive system, and immune system. These findings highlight the importance of understanding and mitigating the impact of PFAS, as well as emphasizing the necessity of maintaining compliance with UCMR5. It is essential to ensure the safety of our drinking water.

How can SPL help?
At SPL, we are not just committed to understanding the impact of “forever chemicals” on health and the environment, we are committed to partnering with you and the industry as a trusted partner to ensure compliance with UCMR5.

SPL’s laboratory in Kilgore, TX is fully approved under UCMR5 for all PFOA analytes covered by this federal program. To help customers comply with UCMR5, SPL employs several strategies:
Proper Sample Collection: SPL field sampling personnel are trained to collect samples in a way that minimizes the risk of PFAS contamination.
UCMR5 Kits: SPL creates and ships individual UCMR5 Kits for each sampling event, with all items tracked for traceability purposes. This ensures the integrity of the samples collected.
PFAS-Free Collection Items: All collection items shipped in UCMR5 Kits are thoroughly tested and proven to be PFAS-free, reducing the chances of contamination during the sampling process.

By allowing SPL to test your water for the presence of forever chemicals, we can ensure the highest standards of accuracy and precision for your results, allowing your organization to have peace of mind as you provide communities with quality water.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in safeguarding your community and environment from the harmful effects of PFAS.

In conclusion, PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” are a significant environmental and health concern due to their persistence and prevalent nature. To understand the risks, check out organizations like PFASCentral.org to make more informed decisions when purchasing products that may contain PFAS. PFASCentral.org maintains lists of manufacturers and retailers that are taking steps to remove PFAS chemicals from their products. By remaining informed you can protect the health of yourself, your loved ones, and your pets through the purchase and use of sustainable products that do not contain forever chemicals. Further, you can make sure to hold your local municipalities accountable by asking how they are working to mitigate the risks of PFAS in your drinking water.

Chantel Huffman
Laboratory Supervisor

Chantel has dedicated an impressive 32 years of her career to the world of clinical and environmental laboratories. For the past decade, she has honed her expertise in LC-MS/MS laboratories, specializing in both environmental and toxicology applications. Chantel’s passion lies in method development and the thrill of troubleshooting complex problems in the laboratory.

Beyond her professional pursuits, Chantel enjoys spending time with her family. She’s a proud mother of two sons and loves to spend time with her grandson any chance she gets. With a wealth of experience and a passion for innovation, Chantel continues to make a meaningful impact in the world of laboratory science.