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Australia is underestimating the future impact of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) with many source waters above regulatory limits, according to UNSW engineering professor, Denis O’Carroll.

A new UNSW-led international study assessed the levels of PFAS contamination in surface and ground water around the globe and found PFAS levels exceeded safe drinking limits.

The research team pulled together PFAS measurements from sources around the world, including government reports, databases, and peer-reviewed literature. Altogether, they collated more than 45,000 data points, which span over roughly 20 years.  

It’s the first study to quantify the environmental burden of PFAS on a global scale.

The study also found high concentrations of PFAS in Australia, with many locations above recommended drinking water levels. This tended to be in areas where firefighting foams had been used in the past, like military institutions and fire training facilities.

O’Carroll and his team are now trying to develop their research by quantifying these levels of PFAS from commercial products in the environment.

They’re also working to develop technologies that can degrade PFAS in drinking water systems, and looking at developing predictive models that determine where PFAS will go in the environment. 

These studies will be in progress over the next two years and aim to be completed by 2026. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued the first national drinking water standards for PFAS.

With governments around the globe increasingly regulating PFAS, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) is helping manufacturers and the industry navigate the changes to ensure a seamless transition.

The IAPMO has published documents on the restrictions before they become mandatory.

IAPMO chief technical services officer, Tom Palkon, said the EPA rule means five PFAS chemicals will be added to the pass/failure requirements in the NSF/ANSI 61 standard.

“It’s a significant change,” Palkon said. “IAPMO R&T is already equipped to provide testing to standards that govern products that may be affected by this new rule. We welcome questions and concerns from manufacturers that seek clarity.”

The Final Rule is the most significant and will impact more than 66,000 public water systems by 2027, these public water systems must monitor and provide three years of initial monitoring.

By 2029, these systems will have five years to implement solutions to reduce PFAS.

Exposure to PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” has been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancers, impacts to the immune system and thyroid, and reproductive and developmental effects.