Contaminants of emerging concern are chemicals that have been discovered in the environment with no current regulatory standard to control them. Recently identified and discovered due to advances in science, these chemicals are concerning because their impacts on water quality, aquatic life, and human health are still unknown. The most well-known of these chemicals are classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a group of 3,000 to 4,000 chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries dating back to the 1940’s. The chemicals are persistent and accumulate over time, and there is evidence of negative health impacts from PFAS on humans and animals. PFAS are found in everyday consumer goods – generally speaking, anything that is water resistant, heat-proof, or stain resistant includes PFAS. Historically, the largest source of PFAS exposure is from firefighting foam which was used most frequently at and around airports.
Most people have been exposed to PFAS, but not necessarily at the elevated levels that are concerning. When tested, PFAS has been found in 97% of tested human blood samples. However, there is no large-scale sampling effort currently underway for PFAS in the United States.
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