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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a large and complex class of human-made compounds often referred to collectively as PFAS. PFAS have been widely used in numerous industrial and residential applications since the 1950’s. Their stability and unique chemical properties produce waterproof, stain resistant, and nonstick qualities in products. They are found in some firefighting foams and a wide range of consumer products such as carpet treatments, non-stick cookware, water-resistant fabrics, food packaging materials, and personal care products.

In Alaska, spills or releases of PFAS into the environment are primarily associated with the use of aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) during firefighting or fire training activities.  PFAS of concern where AFFF has been used include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).  Although these two compounds are the most studied, a growing body of research indicates additional PFAS may have similar health or environmental effects and may be co-contaminants. In 2016, The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) published cleanup levels for PFOS and PFOA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued lifetime health advisory (LHA) levels for these compounds in drinking water.  In 2018, ADEC set action levels for six PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA. These action levels serve as thresholds for determining when responsible parties need to provide water treatment or alternative water sources for impacted water supplies.  

EPA is currently evaluating whether to establish Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) in drinking water for one or more PFAS.  To learn more about the MCL development process, visit: Setting Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFAS

Because PFAS are persistent in the environment and soluble in water, large plumes of groundwater contamination can form where these compounds have been released.  When releases occur in areas served by private or public drinking water wells, the well water is susceptible to contamination. When PFAS contamination is found in the environment, the responsible party must evaluate the extent of the contamination in the soil and groundwater, determine whether and to what extent drinking water supplies are impacted, provide treatment or alternative water if action levels are exceeded, and begin cleanup with ADEC’s oversight.   The responsible party is typically the entity that caused the release or the landowner where the release occurred.

ADEC is proposing new cleanup levels for six PFAS in soil and groundwater in regulations issued for public comment on October 1, 2018.  The comment period closed November 13, 2018.  The department is now reviewing comments prior to adoption of the proposed changes.

In November 2018, ADEC developed a PFAS Action Plan to provide a coordinated response by the agency's environmental programs to address this emerging public health concern. The action plan will be updated over time as progress is achieved, new information becomes available, or additional actions are needed. To review the plan, visit: DEC PFAS Action Plan.

Contacts

  • ADEC, Contaminated Sites Program, Division of Spill Prevention and Response
  • John Halverson
  • Environmental Program Manager
  • 907-269-7545
  • ADEC, Public Water Systems
  • DEC, Drinking Water Program, Division of Environmental Health
  • Cindy Christian
  • Program Manager, Field Operations
  • 907-451-2138
  • DHSS, Health Related Information
  • DHSS Division of Public Health
  • Kristin Bridges
  • Public Health Scientist
  • 907-269-8028