NJ.com - Q&A: How to avoid 'Teflon' chemicals in your water - and elsewhere

August 14, 2016

By Kathleen O'Brien

Excerpt: With news that New Jersey is second among the top 13 states where tap water may be contaminated by so-called "Teflon" chemical compounds has people asking how they can protect themselves.

 The chemicals, called PFASs, are suspected of causing testicular and kidney cancer, along with throwing off the body's metabolism to produce obesity and elevated cholesterol. 

Scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School Public Health mapped which watersheds were likely to have some contamination from the chemicals, based on where tests of drinking water had revealed their presence. Because of New Jersey's industrial background, much of the state could in theory be at risk.

We asked Laurel A. Schaider, an environmental health researcher with the Silent Spring Institute, and one of one of the authors of the study, some questions about ways that people can steer clear of these problematic compounds:

Q. How can people learn if these chemicals are in the water they drink at home? Is there a home test available, or would they have to arrange for commercial testing?

There are no home tests for measuring PFASs in tap water.

From 2013 to 2015, the EPA required large public water departments that serve over 10,000 residents to test for six different PFASs. This testing occurred as part of a broader nationwide screening for unregulated contaminants called "UCMR3."

If you want to find out if your public water was tested, contact your local water supplier or board of health and ask. Results from UCMR3 testing may also be included in the annual Consumer Confidence Reports from your water supplier, which are sometimes available online.

There are a couple of limitations to the UCMR3 testing. First, the detection limits were relatively high, and in addition, the vast majority of small water supplies (serving under 10,000 people) were not included. Nor were private wells, which are relied upon by one-third of Americans. 

About Highly Fluorinated Chemicals (PFASs)