What are PFAS and why are they a problem?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. PFAS are widely used in common consumer products as coatings, on food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, ski and snowboard waxes, and more.
Certain types of firefighting foam—historically used by the U.S. military, local fire departments, and airports to fight oil and gasoline fires—may contain PFAS.
PFAS in drinking water is an important emerging issue nationwide. Because PFAS are water soluble, over time PFAS from some firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories and other releases can seep into surface soils. From there, PFAS can leach into groundwater or surface water, and can contaminate drinking water. PFAS have also been found in rivers, lakes, fish, and wildlife.
PFAS stay in the environment for a long time and do not break down easily. As a result, PFAS are widely detected in soil, water, air, and food. Some PFAS can accumulate in the food chain. Exposure can occur when someone uses certain products that contain PFAS, eats PFAS-contaminated food, or drinks PFAS-contaminated water. When ingested, some PFAS can build up in the body and, over time, these PFAS may increase to a level where health effects could occur.
Studies indicate that exposure to sufficiently elevated levels of certain PFAS may cause a variety of health effects including developmental effects in fetuses and infants, effects on the thyroid, liver, kidneys, certain hormones and the immune system. Some studies suggest a cancer risk may also exist in people exposed to higher levels of some PFAS. Scientists and regulators are still working to study and better understand the health risks posed by exposures to PFAS, and MassDEP is following developments in this burgeoning area closely.
Massachusetts Drinking Water Standard and Health Information
PFAS Standard for Public Drinking Water Supplies
On October 2, 2020, MassDEP published its PFAS public drinking water standard, called a Massachusetts Maximum Contamination Level (MMCL), of 20 nanograms per liter (ng/L) (or parts per trillion (ppt)) – individually or for the sum of the concentrations of six specific PFAS. These PFAS are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS); perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS); perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA); perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA); and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA). MassDEP abbreviates this set of six PFAS as “PFAS6.” This drinking water standard is set to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water.
Additional information on the MassDEP public drinking water standard:
- 310 CMR 22.00: The Massachusetts Drinking Water Regulations
- Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Drinking Water Regulations Quick Reference Guide
- Technical Support Document: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): An Updated Subgroup Approach to Groundwater and Drinking Water Values
Additional information for consumers:
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers (Spanish)
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers (CV Creole)
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers (Haitian Creole)
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers (Portuguese)
- MassDEP Fact Sheet - PFAS in Drinking Water: Questions and Answers for Consumers (Vietnamese)
- CDC ATSDR information on PFAS for consumers and health professionals
Additional information for Public Water Suppliers (PWS):
- PFAS in Drinking Water - Q&A for PWS: A Collection of Frequently Asked Questions
- PFAS monitoring flowchart for small PWS serving less than 3,300 people - COM and NTNCs
- PFAS monitoring flowchart for PWS - COM and NTNCs
- PFAS substitution request for previous testing data
- PFAS waiver request for initial monitoring
- PFAS Public Education and Public Notification templates
- PWS Bottled Water Rebate Program
PFAS detected in drinking water supplies in Massachusetts
This story map consists of seven tabs that present interactive maps, dashboards and photographs that describe the efforts by MassDEP and Public Water Suppliers to address the PFAS contamination. Click on the full screen symbol in the bottom right corner for best viewing.
PFAS testing data
Older testing data for PFAS from Public Water Suppliers (PWS) between 2013 - 2015 is available here: Massachusetts UCMR3 testing results.
More recent PFAS sampling results from PWS are available on the Massachusetts EEA Data Portal. Search under the contaminant group "PFAS".
New drinking water source approvals and PFAS
MassDEP requires PWS to test all new sources of drinking water for PFAS, including replacement sources and satellite wells, using EPA method 537 (14 compounds) or 537.1 (18 Compounds) and report all results. For more information about the new source approval process, contact your MassDEP Regional Office. List of MassDEP Regional Offices by community or email the MassDEP Drinking Water Program firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laboratories, testing and sample collection for drinking water
Private Well Owners
If you are a private well owner, for more information about whether you should test, how to test and your drinking water treatment options, please see PFAS in Private Well Drinking Water Supplies FAQ. MassDEP is also offering a limited private well sampling program. For more information see the Frequently Asked Questions about the MassDEP Private Wells PFAS Sampling Program.
Public Water Suppliers
If you are a Public Water Supplier, MassDEP is offering FREE testing for PFAS: Free PFAS Lab Analyses Program for Public Water Suppliers (PWS) FAQ
Drinking Water Laboratories
Drinking water samples must be analyzed for PFAS by labs using EPA Methods: 537 or 537.1. On June 17, 2020 the MassDEP Division of Environmental Laboratory Sciences established a certification process for laboratories using these Methods.
To find a certified lab see: MassDEP certified labs
Bottled water and home water filters
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) Food Protection Program publishes a list of companies licensed to sell or distribute bottled water or carbonated non-alcoholic beverages in Massachusetts. The list includes bottling company weblinks to enable searches for products sold in Massachusetts. Licenses are renewed annually, and the MDPH list will be updated quarterly.
The MDPH list includes only bottlers licensed by MDPH after they provided test results which show that their bottled water or beverages comply with drinking water standards for PFAS and other contaminants established by:
- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection,
- The US Environmental Protection Agency, and
- The US Food and Drug Administration.
Information from MDPH regarding bottled water, including contact information, can be found here.
Home Water Filters
There are also home water treatment filters capable of removing PFAS from drinking water for the countertop or under the sink. Treatment systems and devices are not specifically designed to meet Massachusetts’ drinking water standard for PFAS6. There are systems that have been designed to meet the USEPA’s Health Advisory of 70 ng/L for the sum of PFOS and PFOA. Any treatment device you use should be certified to meet the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standard P473 to remove PFOS and PFOA compounds so that the sum of their concentrations is below the USEPA Health Advisory of 70 ng/L. Please be aware that 70 ng/L is significantly greater than the MassDEP’s drinking water standard of 20 ng/L for the PFAS6 compounds. Many of these treatment devices certified to meet NSF standard P473 will likely be able to reduce PFAS6 levels to well below 70 ng/L, but there are no federal or state testing requirements for these treatment devices. If you choose to install a treatment device, you should check to see if the manufacturer has independently verifiable PFAS6 monitoring results demonstrating that the device can reduce PFAS below 20 ng/L. See more detailed information on treatment systems in the Private Well Factsheet.
PFAS and waste sites
PFAS are considered to be "hazardous material" subject to the notification, assessment and cleanup requirements of the Massachusetts Waste Site Cleanup Program. A detailed Fact Sheet (below) provides guidance regarding when and how to sample and analyze for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances at disposal sites regulated under the Massachusetts Contingency Plan ("MCP", 310 CMR 40.0000).
Final PFAS-related MCP Revisions
Revisions to the Massachusetts Contingency Plan establishing notification requirements and cleanup standards for PFAS in soil and groundwater are now final, effective December 27, 2019. Documents related to these regulations are now available.
NEW - Private Drinking Water Supply Well Testing Program
MassDEP has initiated a state-funded program that will test a limited number of private drinking water supply wells, focused on the 84 Massachusetts towns where 60% or more of residents are served by private wells. An estimated 40 wells will be selected within each of the 84 towns based on priorities including geographic distribution throughout the town, proximity to potential sources of PFAS, and available funding. Should fewer than 20 of the selected well owners opt to participate in the program, other private well owners will be invited to apply and will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis. General Introduction Letter and Private Well PFAS Sampling Program FAQ.
Take-back program for legacy firefighting foam
MassDEP, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (MassDFS), initiated a legacy "Aqueous Film-Forming Foam" (AFFF) collection and destruction program in 2018 that collected 128,000 pounds (15,000 gallons) of legacy foam from fire departments across the Commonwealth and MassDOT.
The pre-2003 versions of the foam use certain PFAS compounds, which have contaminated some groundwater and drinking water sources across the country. The take-back program ensures that these foams are removed from current stockpiles and appropriately neutralized.
PFAS in Residuals
MassDEP regulates the land application of sludge and septage for beneficial purposes under 310 CMR 32.00. This includes:
- residuals produced from sanitary wastewater sludge,
- drinking water treatment facility sludge,
- short paper fiber,
- and food waste.
All residuals products sold, distributed, and applied in Massachusetts are subject to an Approval of Suitability (AOS), which classifies biosolids for different uses based on the chemical quality and treatment to reduce pathogens. Each approval must be renewed every five years. Under 310 CMR 32.13(5)(c), MassDEP may require sampling and analysis for additional substances before or after issuing the approval. Such a requirement may be either:
- at the request of the local board of health where the product is proposed for use,
- or at MassDEP's request upon review of information submitted in compliance with 310 CMR 32.13(1) or any other information.
Since August 2020, MassDEP has required quarterly monitoring of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in residuals that have an Approval of Suitability (AOS) and are permitted to be reused through land application. This increased frequency in monitoring, which had been required annually since January 2019, was implemented to address the need for more information on PFAS characteristics in residuals.
For testing of PFAS in residuals, MassDEP is reviewing and approving lab SOPs & performing QA/QC reviews of lab results. Please refer to this web page for more details on approved laboratories and laboratory methods.
See the following web page for more information on MassDEP efforts to establish standards for PFAS in Residuals:
For more information about MassDEP’s regulation of residuals, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/residuals-biosolids or contact Jennifer Wood, email@example.com or 617-654-6536.
PFAS in Wastewater Facilities with NPDES-Permitted Discharges
The below schematic details how MassDEP and EPA are currently including PFAS in Wastewater National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits.
MassDEP is also participating in the following regarding PFAS in wastewater:
Participation in sludge capacity study with NEIWPCC, EPA and other New England states
PFAS Pollution Prevention - Collaborative effort of MassDEP, EEA Office of Technical Assistance (OTA), and EPA.
The Office of Technical Assistance and Technology is a non-regulatory agency within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. OTA provides free, confidential, onsite technical assistance to Massachusetts manufacturers, businesses, and institutions.
For testing of PFAS in Wastewater, MassDEP is reviewing and approving lab SOPs & performing QA/QC reviews of lab results. Please refer to this page for more details on approved laboratories and laboratory methods.
PFAS in Massachusetts Rivers
MassDEP jointly funded a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water quality study to evaluate the presence of PFAS in Massachusetts’ rivers and streams. USGS conducted three rounds of sampling at each of 64 sites in 27 rivers from August to November 2020 and analyzed the samples for 24 individual PFAS. Sampling sites were located upstream or downstream of discharges from 24 wastewater treatment facilities and at 16 other stream sites, including sites downstream of suspected nonpoint and industrial sources and at sites not associated with suspected PFAS sources.
PFAS were detected in all 27 of the rivers sampled. Individual PFAS concentrations ranged from not detected in the laboratory to 109 parts-per-trillion (ppt), and the sum of all 24 PFAS at a sampling location ranged between 0.3 and 399 ppt. The highest concentrations were observed downstream of wastewater effluent discharges, but PFAS were also found in rivers upstream of these discharges. The lowest concentrations were observed in rivers located in less populated areas.
Public drinking water supplies for seven communities withdraw from the rivers included in this study. However, riverine PFAS concentrations do not pose an immediate threat to these water supplies based on the drinking water supply sampling conducted to date. Billerica, Tewksbury, Methuen, Lawrence, Andover, Lowell, and INIMA USA in Brockton have all sampled their supplies, and data from these samples indicate compliance with MassDEP’s drinking water standard of 20 ppt for the sum of six PFAS (“PFAS6”).
Multiple sources, including wastewater discharges, may contribute to riverine PFAS concentrations. MassDEP will continue to identify future monitoring objectives, potential studies, and other actions to better understand and address the distribution of PFAS in surface waters, relative contributions of different sources, and implications for public health and aquatic life.
Pesticide products/mosquito control
PFAS contamination was identified in September 2020 through citizen science testing of a pesticide product for mosquito control. The U.S. EPA worked with MassDEP to investigate the source of the contamination. EPA determined that fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers that were used to store and transport a mosquito control pesticide product contained PFAS compounds that were leaching into the product.
For more information see: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USAEPAOPPT/bulletins/2b8444f