This page will be updated periodically with short summaries of general information, specific water-sector technical information, WEF events information, and links to trusted sites for the most up-to-date official information. For questions or comments on this page or PFAS in general, contact Patrick Dube, Senior Program Manager.

What are PFAS?

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)1 are a group  of manmade fluorinated compounds which are used for a variety of applications by both industry and residential households. PFAS have been in commercial use since the 1940’s and are abundant in today’s society. These chemicals are widely in use because of their exceptional resistance to heat, water, and oil.

PFAS are found commonly in every American household, and in products as diverse as non-stick cookware, stain resistant furniture and carpets, wrinkle free and water repellant clothing, cosmetics, lubricants, paint, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, and many other everyday products.

1. PFAS is the broader class of chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and many others.

Why are we concerned?

These chemicals persist in the environment — meaning they are slow to breakdown and, so, remain chemically active. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. These concerns require a collaborative and scientifically driven response by legislators, regulators, and drinking water, wastewater, and solid waste agencies to manage PFAS holistically. 

Drinking water treatment systems, water resource recovery facilities, and municipal solid waste landfills are not “producers” or users of PFAS, and none of these essential public service providers utilize or profit from PFAS chemicals. However, we believe in our collective mission to ensure safe drinking water, wastewater treatment, and sanitation services. To that end, we support actions and regulations intended to ensure delivery of those services as long as they are based on credible science and developed after due deliberation.

Use the buttons below to access more in-depth information

WEF Resources    News   Trusted Sources    Upcoming and Past Events  Regulatory    WEF Task Force    FAQs  

Note: The information posted here is a summary of current knowledge about these emerging chemicals. The state of knowledge will evolve as additional investigation and research is conducted, so continuous review of reputable sources and websites is advised.

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WEF Resources

WEF has a variety of PFAS resources available to members and non-members.


PFAS Fundamentals Compilation
This resource compiles more than 10 PFAS-related publications and guides.


PFAS Factsheet
WEF, together with the American Public Works Association, California Association of Sanitation Agencies, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, National Waste & Recycling Association, Solid Waste Association of North America and the Water Reuse Association, developed this summary factsheet of PFAS substances.


WEF PFAS Position Statement

The Water Environment Federation has developed a series of clean water position statements to guide the critical work WEF provides in clean water policy. These position statements provide the public and clean water professionals with an understanding of how WEF approaches the topics and issues regarding the availability of clean water. Existing position statements are regularly reviewed and updated through the leadership of the Government Affairs Committee, and new position statements are developed as new topics arise in the clean water sector.


Past WEF Webcasts
WEF regularly hosts interactive webcasts on water-related topics and to date has hosted the four different PFAS specific webcasts listed below. These archived webcasts can be view via the WEF Learning Center.

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News

National PFAS Land Application Research Project

Researchers from the University of Arizona are seeking partners for a national research project addressing whether the land application of biosolids results in higher human exposure to PFAS.  This project will investigate research plots around the country and address the impact biosolids have on groundwater as well as plant uptake in crops.  For more information, please find a presentation from the current project partners here.

EPA Researchers Explore Technology to Destroy PFAS

PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Thanks to recent trials, EPA researchers may have found an effective method of breaking this chain link of carbon and fluorine to destroy PFAS—called Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO).

EPA Science Advisory Board PFAS Review Panel Meeting

Beginning December 16th, the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) will convene for the following: to review EPA’s Proposed Approaches to the Derivation of a Draft Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in Drinking Water; Proposed Approaches to the Derivation of a Draft Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS) in Drinking Water; EPA’s Analysis of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction as a Result of Reduced PFOA and PFOS Exposure in Drinking Water; and EPA’s Draft Framework for Estimating Noncancer Health Risks Associated with Mixtures of PFAS.  This meeting (and the others taking place in January) will be open to the public.

PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA's Commitments to Action 2021-2024

On October 18, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap—laying out a whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS.

The roadmap sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions and commits to bolder new policies to safeguard public health, protect the environment, and hold polluters accountable. The actions described in the PFAS Roadmap each represent important and meaningful steps to safeguard communities from PFAS contamination. Cumulatively, these actions will build upon one another and lead to more enduring and protective solutions.

Initiating of Two Rulemaking Efforts Under RCRA

In October 2021, EPA announced important steps toward evaluating the existing data for four PFAS under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and strengthening the ability to clean up PFAS contamination across the country through the RCRA corrective action process.

Final Human Health Toxicity Assessment for GenX Chemicals

In October 2021, the Agency published a final human health toxicity assessment for GenX chemicals that was authored by expert career scientists and underwent rigorous external peer review and public comment.

National PFAS Testing Strategy

In October 2021, EPA announced that the Agency is developing a national PFAS testing strategy that intends to use its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authorities to require PFAS manufacturers to provide information on PFAS. 

U.S. EPA Announces First Validated Laboratory Method to Test for PFAS in Wastewater, Surface Water, Groundwater, Soils
A partnership between EPA and the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program has produced draft Method 1633, a single-laboratory validated method to test for 40 PFAS compounds in wastewater, surface water, groundwater, soil, biosolids, sediment, landfill leachate, and fish tissue.

EPA Announces Plans for New Wastewater Regulations, Incuding First Limits for PFAS, Updated Limits for Nutrients

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which identifies opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution. Preliminary Plan 15 announces that EPA will undertake three new rulemakings to reduce contaminants including PFAS and nutrients—from key industries.

EPA releases Emerging Issues in Food Waste Management: Persistent Chemical Contaminants

This issue paper demonstrates that food waste streams are a source of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in composts and digestates, with PFAS detected in food waste, food contact materials, and composts produced from food waste. Additional research is needed to inform decisions and policies applicable to food waste collection, management, processing, and consequently, the reduction of food waste.

EPA hosts webinar titled “PFAS Technical Support and Scientific Advancements Webinar Archive”

This webinar shares examples of EPA ORD projects conducted in collaboration with and designed by States and Tribes to use ORD’s expertise to identify and improve the understanding of what PFAS are present within various media in local areas of concern. Projects range from environmental sampling around manufacturing facilities to evaluation of the effectiveness of well and wastewater treatment.

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Trusted Sources

A number of agencies, associations and groups have developed valuable, reviewed PFAS related information. The links below point to reputable and reliable sources of information that are updated frequently with technical guidance and the latest research.

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Upcoming and Past Events

WEF continues to seek out and share technical information surrounding PFAS.

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Regulatory

There are a number of PFAS related bills currently proposed in the 117th Congress.  Please see the links below to learn more about each item.

  • PFAS Action Act (R. 2467)
  • Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (R. 3684)
  • NDAA FY2022 (R. 4350)
  • PFAS Safe Disposal Act reintroduced
  • House FY 2022 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (summary)
  • House FY 2022 Defense Appropriations bill (summary)
  • House FY 2022 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill (text)

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PFAS Task Force

The vision of the PFAS Task Force is to establish WEF as a recognized leader and trusted resource of information on PFAS for water professionals, the public and decision makers developing policy and regulations.

Objectives of the PFAS Task Force include:

  • Update: Collect, review and summarize available information and research in order to be able to provide widespread, consistent, and reliable information concerning PFAS.
  • Educate: Provide education and resources to enable WEF members to advocate for funding for PFAS research, appropriate regulation of PFAS, and funding for utilities to address PFAS.
  • Communicate: Provide a platform for water professionals to collaborate and share information about PFAS.

Chair
Mark Knight, P.E. – Suez

Vice Chairs
Scott Schaefer, P.E. - AE2S
John Willis, Ph.D., P.E. - Brown and Caldwell

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Two of the most common types (PFOS and PFOA) were phased out of production in the United States (U.S.) in 2002 and 2015 respectively, but are still present in some imported products. PFOA and PFOS are found in every American person’s blood stream in the parts per billion range, though those concentrations have decreased by 70% for PFOA and 84% for PFOS between 1999 and 2014, which coincides with the end of the production and phase out of PFOA and PFOS in the US2.

 

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Updated Tables, (January 2019). Atlanta, GA: U.S. department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/exposurereport

Several recent legislative and regulatory efforts across the US to address PFAS have focused on limiting levels in drinking water. However, there has been relatively little conversation about the presence of these chemicals in our everyday lives and the public’s sheer exposure to PFAS through primary contact from commercial products used in our everyday lives. Several peer reviewed studies have shown that the mean and median concentration of PFOA in household dust in the US was found to be between approximately 10,000 and 50,000 parts per trillion (ppt)3. These studies highlight the fact that there is significantly more PFOA in the ambient dust in the average home than the levels currently being discussed as thresholds for drinking water. Because PFAS is in the products we use, is transported through air and water and has been found in the food we eat, there are numerous public exposure pathways for PFAS beyond drinking water.

Entities providing essential public services such as safe drinking water, wastewater treatment, water recycling, biosolids recycling, and municipal solid waste management firmly believe in our collective mission to ensure safe drinking water, wastewater treatment, and sanitation services. We acknowledge and embrace our role as environmental and public health stewards and our continued responsibility and commitment to providing a healthy and clean environment now and for future generations. To that end, we support actions and regulations intended to ensure delivery of those services as long as they are based on credible science and developed after due deliberation. There is concern that in the case of PFAS, due to the complexities inherent with them, notification levels, thresholds, and in some cases limits are being developed rapidly and in advance of the scientific and public process.

Drinking water treatment systems, wastewater treatment facilities, and municipal solid waste landfills are not “producers” or users of PFAS, and none of these essential public service providers utilize or profit from PFAS chemicals. Rather, they are “receivers” of these chemicals used by manufacturers and everyday consumers, and merely convey and/or manage the traces of PFAS coming into our systems daily. In order to address the true sources of these chemicals, it is imperative to discontinue and phase out production and use (both domestic and foreign) at manufacturing facilities and find safer alternatives for heavy use areas such as firefighting training sites. As long as PFAS are elements of products used in our everyday lives, and background levels resulting from decades of manufacturing and use persist, these chemicals will continue to be found in “receiver” streams.

Recent legislative and regulatory efforts to address PFAS contamination tend to not differentiate between concentrations at producer and heavy user contaminated sites and common background concentrations in drinking water, groundwater, recycled water, wastewater, biosolids, or landfill leachate. The concentrations of PFAS found in these two scenarios are dramatically different and must be managed separately in public policy and regulation. Sites found near PFAS manufacturers have found contamination at concentrations reaching 100,000 to 500,000 ppt. In the same context, firefighting training sites, including military complexes, PFAS concentrations have been found as high as 6,950,000 ppt.4 In these circumstances, PFAS producers and heavy users have created severely contaminated sites that must be remedied. In contrast, the action levels currently discussed for drinking water systems range from 5–40 ppt, an exceptionally small fraction of the concentrations found at highly contaminated sites. Because of this vast disparity in relative contributions, it is imperative that policy and regulation reflect product manufacturer responsibility and stewardship, as well as cleanup and remediation at highly contaminated sites, differentiated from those that are receiving PFAS in their systems at significantly smaller concentrations.

The U.S. EPA has set a drinking water health advisory level of 70 ppt individually or combined for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. Through USEPA’s Action Plan5 the Agency is currently evaluating the need to develop maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for these and possibly other PFAS compounds. The Agency similarly proposed preliminary groundwater remediation goals for PFOA and PFOS at 70 ppt combined in areas where groundwater may be used for drinking water. For perspective, one part per trillion is the equivalent of four grains of sugar in an Olympic sized swimming pool, or the equivalent of one second in 32,000 years, or $1.50 out of all the US currency in the world. Even as EPA’s work continues, states have begun setting their own PFAS standards for drinking water at a rapid pace and without following some of the usual regulatory and scientific review and public involvement procedures. The public and political concern about PFAS is leading several states to move forward with regulatory standards or notification levels while the science is developing. For example, New Hampshire6 has adopted regulatory standards of 12 ppt for PFOA and 15 ppt for PFOS in drinking water, the California State Water Board7 has established notification levels of 6.5 ppt for PFOS and 5.1 ppt for PFOA in drinking water, while other states have adhered to the USEPA health advisory level of 70 ppt for both PFOA and PFOS combined. States adopting different standards for the same PFAS compounds are creating confusion and risking undermining public confidence at a time when greater consistency is needed. In fact, stringent state requirements could have significant unintended impacts on public municipalities and individuals, if public systems are deemed unusable and/or need to install prohibitively expensive supplemental treatment systems. Similarly, policies that limit the landfill disposal of PFAS containing wastes could force alternative means of disposal that are less protective of public health and the environment.

States that are establishing, or have adopted, strict PFAS standards for drinking water could also ultimately impact discharge limits on wastewater treatment plants effluent, recycled water, as well as the management of biosolids and leachate. Because PFAS are ubiquitous in households, consumer products, food, and the environment generally, some trace levels reflecting this ubiquitous broad use of these compounds will make their way into the wastewater and solid waste streams. From wastewater treatment plants, some of these trace amounts of PFAS may also be found in biosolids. Trace amounts will also make their way to landfills and resulting leachate. In response to the phase out of PFAS use and appropriate source control and product substitution, continued reduction of trace levels is anticipated. It is important to note that PFAS are also found in paper mill residuals, digestates, composts, and soils. Given the ubiquity of PFAS, and the comparative background levels which may be found in wastewater, biosolids, and leachates, setting requirements near analytical detection limits on these sources may not provide a discernable benefit to protecting public health.

Legislators, regulators, and drinking water, wastewater, and solid waste agencies must work collaboratively to examine how to manage PFAS holistically, with science driving the decision making. We acknowledge and embrace our role as public health and environmental stewards to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation services. However, we know that science is still evolving to understand the fate, exposure, and toxicity of PFAS in various environmental media. The analytical methods needed to study and accurately monitor these chemicals at such trace concentrations are still in development for media other than drinking water. In addition, the extent of public health impacts remains unclear and is not fully understood. This underscores the need to better understand the complex science of PFAS exposure and impacts, verifiable analytical methods, and real-world risk before setting exceedingly stringent thresholds or limits. The goal of any PFAS policy or regulation should be to determine the most effective steps needed to reduce human exposure and implement them within the broad context of protecting human health. This requires differentiating high concentration sites from background concentrations and taking action to mitigate concentrations at high use sites. It also demands both a reassessment of products we produce and use daily, and a realistic assessment of how to control PFAS chemicals already in the background environment. The most significant action we need to take today is to remove these chemicals of concern from the stream of commerce and pursue cleanup and remediation at highly contaminated sites. Source reduction and pollution prevention can serve as the most efficient means of addressing the persistent background presence of PFAS and effectively limit exposure to PFAS going forward.