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.
PFAS detected in drinking water supplies in Massachusetts
Between 2013 and 2015 in Massachusetts, 158 public water systems serving more than 10,000 people and 13 smaller systems were required to test for six PFAS chemicals as part of EPA’s third round of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3). PFAS was detected at nine Massachusetts drinking water sources above EPA's specified reporting limits.
See the complete set of reported Massachusetts UCMR3 testing results for PFAS and other unregulated contaminants between 2013 - 2015.
Since then some additional testing has taken place. More recent PFAS sampling results from public water systems are available on the Massachusetts EEA Data Portal. Search under the contaminant group "PFAS".
The following map displays locations where public drinking water sources have been tested for PFAS as of December 28, 2018.
For more detailed and up-to-date information about the locations on the map where PFAS was detected, please contact the Public Water Supplier (PWS): MA Public Water Supplier contacts sorted by Town.
New drinking water source approvals and PFAS
MassDEP requires all new drinking water sources to do PFAS sampling prior to activation, even if they already have started the permitting process. MassDEP requires new source testing for the following six PFAS (Perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA], Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid [PFOS], Perfluorononanoic acid [PFNA], Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid [PFHxS], Perfluoroheptanoic acid [PFHpA], and Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid [PFBS]).
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.
Health advisories and downloadable fact sheets
PFAS Levels of Concern
In May 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a lifetime Health Advisory (HA) of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 ug/L) for the combination of two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water.
In June 2018, due to similar health concerns, MassDEP established an Office of Research and Standards Guideline (ORSG) level for drinking water that extended the EPA advisory to include the following three additional PFAS chemicals: PFNA, PFHxS, and PFHpA, because these compounds share very similar chemical structures and the available data indicates they are likely to exhibit similar toxicities. The ORSG level is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), and applies to the total summed level of all five compounds. Based on this ORSG, MassDEP recommends the following:
- Consumers in sensitive subgroups (pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants) not consume water when the level of the five PFAS substances, individually or in combination, is above 70 ppt.
- Public water suppliers take steps expeditiously to lower levels of the five PFAS, individually or in combination, to below 70 ppt for all consumers.
Additional information on the MassDEP ORSG can be found at:
- Office of Research and Standards Guideline (ORSG)
- Detailed analysis of the data supporting MassDEP ORS's guideline
Additional information for consumers can be found at:
Laboratories and testing for PFAS
Drinking water samples must be analyzed for PFAS by labs using EPA Method 537 or 537.1. In 2019 MassDEP will be working on establishing a process for drinking water laboratory certification using these Methods.
Public Water Suppliers:
Until MassDEP begins certifying labs, analysis must be performed by laboratories that are either:
- Approved by EPA for UCMR3 monitoring and are capable of achieving a minimum reporting level (MRL) of 5 ppt or lower, have continued to participate in performance evaluation studies and can document such status; or
- Certified by another state or certification authority subject to approval by the MassDEP Drinking Water Program.
Private Well Owners:
Until MassDEP begins certifying labs for PFAS analysis, we recommend you use a lab certified by another state or certification authority. See the link below to find a certified lab. We encourage you to ask the lab to use the lowest reporting level available (5 ppt or lower).
Bottled water tested for PFAS
A list of bottled water companies that tested their water for PFAS and voluntarily shared the results for posting to the Commonwealth’s website. The list includes links to their lab reports.
Petition to create a regulatory structure for PFAS
On October 25, 2018, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Toxics Action Center (TAC) submitted a petition to MassDEP, “Petition for Rulemaking to Establish a Treatment Technique Drinking Water Standard for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances.” MassDEP held a meeting on January 16, 2019, to consider the petition, and after the meeting will notify the petitioners of the Department’s actions. The petition, and information about the meeting, are available below. MassDEP's response to the petition will also be made available here once completed.
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).
There are currently no PFAS-specific Reportable Quantities (RQs) or Reportable Concentrations (RCs); therefore, the presence of PFAS in soil or groundwater is not, by itself, a notifiable condition under the MCP. However, the regulations include a 2-hour notification condition that is applicable to any oil or hazardous material that poses (or could pose) an Imminent Hazard, regardless of whether it is specifically listed in regulation (310 CMR 40.0311(7)).
MassDEP may issue a Notice of Responsibility (NOR) to initiate a site assessment for a release of PFAS to the environment, absent specific notification triggers.
PFAS as Contaminants of Concern
If a disposal site is currently under investigation, specific knowledge of site history/operations, the results of past analyses and other relevant information is considered to determine which potential contaminants to look for. For example, if past industrial operations at the site indicate the likely presence of other PFAS compounds at toxicologically significant concentrations, then those compounds would also be included in the investigation.
In the absence of published soil and groundwater cleanup standards (MCP Method 1 Standards) for PFAS, these compounds must be addressed using a site specific risk assessment approach.
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 Wastewater 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.
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.