On Nov. 8, Tacoma Water announced an isolated number of customers may have had exposure to perfluorinated substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The exposure risk is only for customers who collected water in their own containers from the well at 7440 S. Cedar Street in the south end of Tacoma. Read more about the well and Tacoma Water’s testing.
For questions about your water quality, contact Tacoma Water's Water Quality Team at (253) 502-8207 or WaterQuality@CityofTacoma.org. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about PFAS and their possible health effects.
What are the chemicals involved?
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals—which include perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)— used to make stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products since the 1940s. Manufacturers widely used them in common consumer products as coatings, on food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, ski and snowboard waxes, and more. The U.S. military, local fire departments, and airports use certain types of firefighting foam that also contain PFAS. These chemicals don’t break down easily in the environment. PFAS also builds up in the bodies of exposed people and animals.
Do I need immediate medical attention if I consumed water from the well on South Cedar Street in South Tacoma?
No. At your next scheduled medical visit, tell your healthcare provider.
Do I need to get my blood levels tested?
Talk to your healthcare provider. A blood test cannot diagnose or predict health effects from PFAS, which gives the test little medical value. Blood testing allows you to compare your serum levels with those in nationwide survey data or in other communities with contaminated water.
How can PFAS affect my health?
Because so many consumer products contain PFAS, most people have had exposure to them. Studies about the health effects on people are inconclusive. Some, but not all, studies on long-term exposure show these chemicals may:
- Increase cholesterol levels.
- Increase uric acid level—a precursor for cardiovascular disease.
- Affect the fetus development and childhood learning and behavior.
- Increase some types of cancers: prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer.
- Decrease fertility and interfere with the body’s natural hormones.
- Affect the immune system—reduced immune responses to vaccines in children.
Much of what we know about the health effects comes from a large study of more than 69,000 people exposed over several decades in Ohio and West Virginia.
How can exposure to PFAS happen?
Over time, some PFAS released from manufacturing sites, landfills, firefighting foam, and other products seep into surface soils. From there, they can leach into groundwater and contaminate drinking water. PFAS are also in rivers, lakes, fish, and wildlife.
Exposure can occur when someone uses certain products with PFAS or consumes contaminated food or water. When ingested, some of these chemicals can build up in the body and, over time, may increase to a level where health effects could occur.
Do drinking water standards exist for PFAS?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion (70 ppt). The EPA based the advisory level on the best available studies about health effects. The advisory level offers people—including those in sensitive groups—with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to the chemicals.
The EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination.
Other than water and food, what are other sources of exposure?
Consumer products may be the source of PFAS exposures. They include:
- Some grease-resistant paper, fast food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers.
- Nonstick cookware such as Teflon® coated pots and pans.
- Stain resistant coatings such as Scotchguard® used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics.
- Water resistant clothing such as Gore-Tex®.
- Cleaning products.
- Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup).
- Paints, varnishes, and sealants.