In December, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new process for testing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. This validated testing method supports other measures the EPA is taking to help local communities tackle PFAS issues.

Using this new process, both the government and private laboratories can measure a record-high 29 chemicals. Known as Method 533, this new approach is directed at “short chain” PFAS — i.e., those with carbon chain lengths of four to 12. This complements Method 537.1, and can test for 11 more PFAS.

Method 533 serves as a major milestone in the EPA PFAS Action Plan. It also features isotope dilution, an analytical technique that can minimize sample matrix interference and boost data quality.

What are PFAS?

In use since the 1940s, PFAS are man-made chemicals that are currently — or have been found in — in many standard consumer products, such as cookware, food packaging, and stain repellants, according to the EPA. Some of the main sources of PFAS include manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams.

PFAS can be released into the air, soil, and water — including sources of drinking water — according to the EPA. People can also be exposed to low levels of PFAS through food, which can be contaminated by tainted soil and water used to grow the food, packaging containing PFAS, and equipment used during food processing.

As far as drinking water is concerned, it can be exposed in areas with contaminated water supplies. The EPA notes that contamination is typically localized and linked to a specific facility.

PFAS and Your Health

Evidence has revealed a connection between PFAS and adverse health outcomes, according to the EPA. PFAS ingested by humans or animals is absorbed into the body and can accumulate. These chemicals remain in the body for long periods of time and can eventually cause health issues.

Tests on laboratory animals have shown reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects, according to the EPA. In studies on humans, the most consistent findings include high levels of cholesterol. Information on infant birth weights, immune system impact, and thyroid hormone disruption are limited.

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