Per– and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Per– and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that affect our environment through impacted wastewater, landfill leachate, surface water, groundwater and air. 

EPA includes several important assumptions in their risk calculations.   

They assume that:

  1. 20% of exposure comes from drinking water;
  2. individuals drink 2.5 L of the same water per day, 365 days/yr for 70 years (lifetime exposure).

The remaining 80% of exposure comes from sources other than drinking water, many of which are not regulated by the EPA or by states. These sources include: household goods, fast-food packaging, clothing, carpets, cosmetics and other.

PFAS Sources in the Environment

*This graphic depicts the cycling of PFAS in the environment. Currently there are no cost-effective methods to destroy these chemicals. PFAS in wastewater treatment residues disposed of in landfills can return to the environment.

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a large group of man-made chemicals that present public health and environmental issues in communities across the United States. PFAS have been used worldwide in consumer products and in some industrial applications to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. PFAS chemicals are widespread in the environment because of their longevity, unlimited uses and resistance to breakdown. PFAS can accumulate in people, wildlife and fish. Common consumer products that may still use PFAS in their production include, but are not limited to:

  • some nonstick cookware
  • food packaging (ex: microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, sliced cheese wrappers, pizza boxes)
  • stain-resistant carpets, fabrics and water-resistant clothing
  • paints, varnishes and sealants
  • cosmetics
  • dental floss
  • fire-fighting foams used on flammable liquids
  • pesticide formulation packaging

Why were they developed?

PFAS were considered valuable compounds because of their effectiveness at repelling grease and water in many textile applications as well as their usefulness in making foam to extinguish large scale fuel fires.

Why are PFAS Important?

Although PFAS toxicity is being intensively researched worldwide, there is still much more to learn. Exposures to certain PFAS have been associated with increased rates of specific cancers in the liver, kidney and testes, decreased birth weights and immune system suppression, among other adverse health effects. Some PFAS can accumulate in people’s bodies and may be retained for several years before they are eliminated. Blood serum concentrations in most Americans tested in recent years are generally less than levels associated with adverse health effects. Due to decreased use of some of these chemicals, concentrations of PFAS, specifically perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), studied in Americans’ blood serum are lower than they were just 20 years ago. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a series of Health Advisories (HA) for four PFAS since 2016 in drinking water. None of the HAs are considered to be regulatory or enforceable by the EPA. The HAs were derived to be protective of the most sensitive water consumers, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, to protect their infants and newborn babies from any potential adverse health effects that might occur. However, according to the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in most cases the benefits from breastfeeding appear to outweigh the risks of PFAS exposure to infants.

What is DHEC doing about PFAS?

DHEC’s focus related to PFAS is on their potential presence in drinking water sources. The agency has implemented several strategies with the goal of determining the presence and concentrations of PFAS in our state’s surface water, groundwater and land applied material. When concentrations indicate, further investigation is conducted to identify potential sources and reduce impacts.

Proviso 34.63 Pollutants Remediation Fund 

In June 2022, the SC House Ways and Means Committee added a budget proviso that established the “PFOS, PFOA and Emerging Pollutants Remediation Fund.” The funds are expressly for the mitigation of emerging contaminants like PFAS found in drinking water above the HAs, with an emphasis on private wells and small drinking water systems. DHEC is working diligently alongside stakeholders to determine the best strategy to optimize the appropriated proviso funds. The funds were received in late October 2022 and work is ongoing to effectively disburse the funds where most needed.  

DHEC continues to convene stakeholders to discuss priorities and impacts of PFAS across the state of South Carolina. Working collaboratively with partners, DHEC has initiated a range of discussions including updates on sampling data, considerations for industrial land application of sludge and implementation of proviso strategies. Hearing the questions and thoughts from our partners guides on-going efforts for the State. Stakeholders include drinking water and wastewater utilities, industries, agri-business, professional associations, academic partners, environmental groups and nonprofit organizations. 

Learn More with Additional Resources