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  • 1.  PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 12-06-2024 14:09

    There have been recent news items about the presence of and danger from PFOS and PFOA  (e.g Channel 7 "Alarm as cancer-causing chemicals found in tap water across Australia" )
    So what does the RACI community think about this? Should we be alarmed? Should we all rush out and fit filters on our taps? If so, what sort of filters? Is there epidemiological pathological and other evidence to support the contention that these substances are persistent in the body and are carcinogenic? What cancers are they likely to cause, and is there any evidence that such cancers have been increasing? Or do we need to put such media stories into context?  



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    Thomas (Tom) Smith
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  • 2.  RE: PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 12-06-2024 16:09

    My current role is predominantly in drinking water management, and I have been working with one of the named communities since the first publicly available identification of PFAS contamination. It's interesting that the main evidence is from the original screening study undertaken as part of a project in 2011 - in the past 13 years, water providers who were aware of contamination have done something. 

    Is PFAS an issue - yes - its a persistent organic pollutant that is known to bioaccumulate (but at what level). Australia have signed onto the Stockholm Convention, therefore have to develop the NEMP and implement it. It will be extremely difficult to manage PFAS at the end of pipe (wastewater treatment plants) so the answer has to be ban the import, use, and sale of PFAS containing products simply to meet the agreed to NEMP.

    Regarding the health risk - its a bit like tobacco - 3M (who produced one of the more common aqueous fire fighting foams) and others obfuscate, but more and more data is indicating health impacts - depending on what data you accept as part of the ADWG health guideline development, some very low levels are the result. PFAS is not the first instance where a zero limit is the target. Lead in drinking water also has zero in some jurisdictions. 

    Now as analytical chemists (and I was an ultra low trace analytical chemist) we know that zero is ridiculous. I can either preconcentrate or improve my analytical technique to extend my detection limit into the femtomolar level (or below). We need to educate regulators (I was one of them too) that zero is not the best answer. 

    Should we get water filters for PFAS? No - you probably have teflon coated frypans - throw it out first. Then stop buying PFAS containing products (but you may as well use your GoreTex jacket until it needs replacing). 



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    Michael Lawrence
    Associate Director, Bligh Tanner
    Adjunct Professor, The University of Queensland
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  • 3.  RE: PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 13-06-2024 12:00
    Edited by Daniel Turner 13-06-2024 11:59

    Great questions by @Thomas (Tom) Smith and thanks to @Michael Lawrence for your insights.

    The potential that large companies knew some of the risks associated with these profitable products going into widespread use is mind-boggling.

    Novel chemistry has the potential to benefit everyone or conversely negatively impact the globe!

    The Veritasium video about Fritz Haber demonstrates the scale of impact a single chemist can have-a non-restricted version of the video is also available.



  • 4.  RE: PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 14-06-2024 08:54

    I think the real value of this forum is the access we have to experts in the field to answer pressing and important questions of the day, many of which concern chemistry. This is not surprising, as we know that chemistry is indeed the central science. In saying this, I appreciate that Prof Lawrence and other experts are extremely busy people, and take valuable time to inform us of matters which lie outside our own fields of expertise. This is where this forum differentiates itself from other social media platforms. 



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    Thomas (Tom) Smith
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  • 5.  RE: PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 30 days ago
    Edited by Andrew Wright 30 days ago

    The whole thing was the media blowing up the new USEPA regulations which are 4-10 ng/L in drinking water (depending on species), compared to the 70 ng/L exceedance threshold in the ADWG (560 ng/L for PFOA). From memory the site concentrations in the 2011 are all below the ADWG limit.

    I've tested our tapwater (south east Melbourne) every so often and never had any detects above our 0.2 ng/L reporting limit. Rarely I've seen detects in potable water samples from interstate but it's not from reticulated supply.



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    Andrew Wright
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  • 6.  RE: PFOS and PFOA in drinking water - concerned, alarmed, terrified or relaxed?

    Posted 30 days ago

    There have been a few places over the current AFWG limit - mostly where firefighting foam has contaminated groundwater. Think Air Force bases and potentially firefighting stations where AFFF was used in practice. If the town supply is groundwater there can be a risk.

    Most surface water supplies are (at worst) low trace or non-detect. 

    Michael



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    Michael Lawrence
    Associate Director Bligh Tanner
    Adjunct Professor The University of Queensland
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