Teflon, is a great material for cookware — allowing food not to stick to the pan — but certainly not something you want in your drinking water. However, this may be a reality for many New Jersey residents.

On August 9, 2016, Harvard University published the results of a study that found polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl (PFASs) — substances used in the process of creating Teflon — in the public drinking water supply used by six million people in the U.S. While these chemicals were found at the EPA’s minimum reporting levels in 33 states, 75% of detections occurred in 13 states.

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” said lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS. “In addition, the actual number of people exposed may be even higher than our study found, because government data for levels of these compounds in drinking water is lacking for almost a third of the U.S. population—about 100 million people.”

New Jersey had the second-highest frequency of chemicals, following California, which ranked the highest. The Garden State is likely a hotbed for contamination because of the numerous manufacturing plants that currently have a presence in the area or did in the past.

Teflon and Your Health

Teflon itself has not been linked to cancer, but PFASs have been associated with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and obesity. They may also decrease fertility; impact a developing fetus; cause growth, learning, and behavior changes in children; and affect the immune system.

In many cases, it’s relatively simply to limit exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals or avoid them altogether, but PFASs in drinking water is a different story. There’s currently no at-home test for you to purchase to gauge the levels in your tap water. The only measure you can take is calling your local water authority or board of health to find if the public water supply was tested.

On a slightly more positive note, certain types of water filters will remove PFASs from your water supply, so there’s no need to switch to exclusively bottled water. Those containing activated carbon and reverse osmosis filters will effectively eliminate these chemicals. For best results, be sure to change the filter regularly.

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