News Feature | September 26, 2016

Do PFOA Substitutes Pose A Threat To Water Quality?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

It is intuitive to think that regulating harmful contaminants has a positive impact on water quality. But the problem does not end when the regulation hits the books, experts say, since companies may find chemical substitutes with an equally dangerous effect on water quality.

The U.S. EPA has worked with major companies including Dupont to phase out the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which contaminated the water supply in Hoosick Falls, NY, among other communities. “However, the new chemical that supposedly replaced it may not be any safer and it's shrouded in secrecy,” WNYT reported.

David Carpenter with the University of Albany’s Environmental Sciences Department, weighed in on the PFOA landscape.

“It's been PFOA and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) that's been discontinued, but not the related chemicals that have not been studied so much,” he said, per the report.

The chemicals used to replace these substances present various uncertainties around drinking water quality.

Carpenter noted “that the industry is very secretive about what they used to replace PFOA and it's hard to figure out exactly what they are. He says the new chemicals could be just as dangerous as PFOA,” the report said.

“They're not saying what they replaced it with. It's almost certain that these are perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) with slightly different structures that have not been studied anywhere near the degree that these more commonly version of perfluorinated compounds have been,” the report said.

Dupont, for instance, is using ammonium 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2 propanoate as a substitute, according to the report. The company says it has tested the chemical for health and safety. Other companies were unwilling to disclose to WNYT what their substitute is.

The EPA says it is reviewing hundreds of PFOA alternatives, according to the report. An EPA official told WNYT: "There are many reasons to expect a range of toxicities. But more research is needed, particularly on the environmental fate of these compounds to fully evaluate these compounds."

The EPA issued a health advisory in May about exposure to PFCs as various cities wage high-profile battles against the compounds, including Hoosick Falls, NY, and factory towns across the country. PFCs are industrial contaminants, and research has tied them to cancer.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.