Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, health experts have been exploring the reasons why some patients experience more severe symptoms. At the very end of 2020, the Harvard School of Public Health published a study that found that individuals with elevated blood levels of a chemical known as perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) who were infected with the coronavirus had higher risks of hospitalization, intensive care and death.
PFAS and the Coronavirus
PFBA is part of a class of more than 4,000 chemicals called perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFAS). These manmade chemicals—which have been used for decades in the production of household items, takeout food, microwave popcorn and other commercial products that are resistant to moisture, heat and stains—have contaminated the environment and constituted a danger to public health by suppressing the human immune system. Even at low levels, PFAS have been linked to high cholesterol and cancers.
Many studies have demonstrated that we can be exposed to PFAS in a number of ways, from drinking contaminated water to using non-stick cookware. So it’s no wonder that some have estimated that nearly all (98%) Americans have detectable levels of PFAS in their blood.
In December 2020, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Register, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agency, was investigating the potential effects of PFAS on the duration and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine and issued a statement that included findings that connected PFAS to reduced antibody responses to vaccines. The report suggested that exposure to high levels of PFAS could increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 and increase the severity of the infection. This is due to the effect of PFAS on the immune system, which hampers the ability of the body to produce enough antibodies to ensure an effective reaction to the vaccine, an ability that is vital in the fight against COVID-19 and other infectious agents.
Known as “forever chemicals” because of their long half-lives and persistent presence in the environment, PFAS have recently been found to be more common in tap water than previously believed. Last January, laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research and environmental advocacy organization, found PFAS chemicals in the drinking water of a number of U.S. cities and that more than 200 million Americans could be exposed to PFAS in their drinking water.
Regulating and Removing PFAS from Water
So, how are PFAS monitored in the U.S.? The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate drinking water to protect public health. While there is no federally mandated maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFAS, the current standard of the EPA is a non-enforceable health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS (the most-studied PFAS chemicals).
The water treatment technologies that have been found to be most effective in removing PFAS from drinking water are granular activated carbon (GAC), ion exchange (IX) and reverse osmosis (RO). AdEdge Water Technologies helps customers find a tailored solution for removing PFAS that fits their needs.
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