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The health risk of watering plants with PFAS-contaminated water is uncertain. It depends on many factors, including: 2
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PFAS are slow to break down in the environment, and therefore are often found in food and the environment (soil, water). It is unlikely that you can avoid all PFAS exposure. However, you can take the following actions to limit your exposure to PFAS:
Significant research is underway to better answer this question. At this point, home grown produce likely contributes to less PFAS exposure than drinking water or food products like eggs and seafood. While PFAS may be present in co-compost, it is likely diluted when mixed with surrounding soils, so less PFAS ends up in the plants. Note that co-compost has not been available to the public since August 2019.
Want to learn more about how PFAS travels from soil or co-compost into plants?
Many factors affect how PFAS ends up in plants, including:
We generally know that shorter chain compounds that are more soluble (dissolved) in water are more likely to be found in the fruit of a plant. On the other hand, long chain compounds (like PFOS and PFOA) tend to stick to soils or translocate (move) into and store in the plant’s roots or leaves.
The current, limited studies on health risk from eating produce, indicate that daily intake of PFOS and PFOA from produce is far below the health risk levels established in the U.S. and abroad. A USEPA study1,2 estimated that a person would need to eat nearly 2 to 3 pounds of lettuce a day to be above the recommended safe intake rate for PFOA and PFOS in lettuce, assuming lettuce was their only PFAS exposure.
You can take the following actions to limit your exposure:
Want to learn more about PFAS in irrigation water?
A recent study modelled how much PFAS was found in vegetables following watering with PFAS-impacted water. The study found that using water with the USEPA lifetime health advisory for PFOS and PFOA of 70 nanograms per Liter (ng/L) [or parts per trillion, ppt] would result in daily exposure below what state and federal agencies deemed high risk, for all age groups.3 In other words, water that the USEPA says is safe to drink is also safe to water ones plants with.
We know biosolid-based fertilizers often contain some level of detectable PFAS.4 Recent studies found that fertilizer products generally had higher PFAS concentrations than soil amendments containing biosolids, such as co-compost. However, fertilizers are typically added in smaller amounts than soil amendment products, suggesting that PFAS levels in bulk soil is lower when using fertilizers than when using soil amendment products. FAQ #9 includes actions you can take to reduce exposure to PFAS from fertilizers and soil amendments, including co-compost.
The Nantucket landfill and WON’s operations take materials delivered from the public and commercial vendors to use as ingredients to produce several products for re-use:
Yes. While some exposure to PFAS may occur from accidentally swallowing or breathing in steam while bathing or showering, it is not significant.
Yes. PFAS are not easily absorbed through the skin, so bathing is not a significant source of exposure. Take care to limit accidental swallowing or breathing of PFAS-impacted water during bathing.
You have two options:
When installing a private treatment system, talk to a professional to make sure it will correctly treat PFAS, and work with them throughout the process, including how to maintain the system and dispose of the PFAS-laden treatment media.
Not necessarily. The MassDEP PFAS6 MCL and USEPA lifetime health advisories are set to overestimate potential exposures. Their goal is to make sure that sensitive populations, like infants and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, are protected. The advisories also take into account differences between animals and humans, and differences between humans. As stated by MassDEP, “a risk would be expected only if an individual continuously drinks only contaminated water at a level significantly higher than the MCL.” The best way to reduce the potential health risks is to limit your exposure as much as possible (more info in FAQs #20, #23, and #28).
Yes. If you would like to have your or your family member’s blood tested, talk to your health care provider. You can also seek guidance on how to interpret blood test results from your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU). However, PEHSU does not offer PFAS testing.
Remember that PFAS are found in the blood of humans and animals worldwide. Most people in the United States have one or more specific PFAS in their blood, especially PFOS and PFOA. If you are concerned and choose to have your blood tested, test results will tell you how much of each PFAS is in your blood but it is unclear what the results mean in terms of possible health effects. The blood test will not be diagnostic (attributable to an existing health condition) or prognostic (predictive of a future health condition), nor will it provide information for treatment. The blood test results will not predict or rule-out the development of future health problems related to a PFAS exposure. At this point, the benefit of a PFAS blood test is to identify the PFAS in a person’s blood, relative to the broader population.