PFAS is a family of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications since the 1940s. Recently, concerns have arisen about the potential health risks associated with exposure to PFAS.
If you have PFAS in your drinking water, you may be wondering if it’s safe to cook with it.
The safety of using PFAS-contaminated water to cook with is an open question. Guidance from federal and state agencies responsible for public safety is contradictory. Several state health agencies say that it’s OK to use water with low levels of PFAS for cooking. Other state agencies advice the public to cook and prepare food using alternative supplies if their water has PFAS in it. The CDC says to follow EPA and state guidelines. It’s difficult to know what to do.
In this blog post, we address the concern many people have about cooking with water contaminated with PFAS. We explore this question in detail, addressing various cooking methods, foods that have water as an ingredient, and a lot more. Continue reading to learn about PFAS and how to keep yourself and your family safe.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been used in industry and commerce since the 1940s.
These fluorinated compounds are very stable and make excellent surfactants, repellents, and lubricants. As a result, they have been used in many common products, such as:
- Nonstick cookware
- Water-repellent clothing
- Stain-resistant fabrics and carpets
- Some food packaging
- Firefighting foams
Why is PFAS in my water
PFAS can enter the environment from many different sources. Industrial facilities that use or produce PFAS can release these chemicals into the air, soil, and water. They can also enter the environment from consumer products, such as carpeting and clothing.
Once released into the environment, PFAS can stay there for a long time because they do not break down easily. These chemicals also bioaccumulate, which means they build up in the bodies of people and animals over time. Some people refer to PFAS compounds as forever chemicals.
PFAS can move through the environment and end up in our drinking water. In fact, PFAS have been found in the drinking water of more than 16 million Americans.
The EPA has set lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking water. But there is no federal limit for other PFAS chemicals. Some states have set their own drinking water standards for PFAS.
Concerns with PFAS
These days, concerns are being raised about potential health risks associated with exposure to PFAS. These include:
- Liver damage
- Thyroid problems
- Immune system disruptions
- Reproductive and developmental issues
PFAS in water is a particular concern because these chemicals can build up in our bodies over time and stay there for long periods of time.
Can I Cook with Water that Has PFAS in It?
Water is an essential ingredient in cooking. Whether you are boiling pasta, making soup, or steaming vegetables, water is a key component of the cooking process.
Water is used to prepare food in several ways:
- Heating: Many foods are boiled in water or steamed to cook them
- An ingredient: Many recipes include water as a major ingredient. Examples include soup, oatmeal, and stew.
- Cleaning: Most vegetables and fruit are washed in water to clean them.
So, if you have PFAS in your drinking water, you may be wondering if it’s safe to cook with it. The safety of using PFAS-contaminated water to cook with is an open question.
State and federal guidelines
Guidance from federal and state agencies responsible for public safety is contradictory. The US EPA hasn’t set federal drinking water standards for PFAS. They do, however, offer guidance on what to do if your water is contaminated with PFAS.
“If possible, consider using an alternate water source for drinking, preparing food, cooking, brushing teeth, preparing baby formula, and any other activity when your family might swallow water.”
Several state health agencies say that it’s OK to use water with low levels of PFAS for cooking. The Rhode Island Department of Health, for example, says:
“It is ok to use drinking water from public water systems for cooking food. PFAS exposures from the water used for cooking are usually smaller than PFAS exposures from other sources, like grease-resistant food packaging.”
Does PFAS contaminate my food?
If your water has PFAS in it, then it is likely that some amount of that contaminant will be taken up by the food you cook in it. Different foods will absorb more water than others. This, in turn, will affect the amount of PFAS that is taken up by the food.
For example, pasta and rice can absorb up to 1.8 times their weight in water. This means that if you cook these foods in water with PFAS, they will likely absorb some of the contaminant.
In contrast, vegetables only absorb about 20% to as much as 50% of their weight in water. This type of food would be expected to absorb less PFAS than starchy food.
What should you do? It’s hard to decide. I would err on the side of caution, and not cook with contaminated water.
Boiling water does not remove PFAS
If you were hoping that boiling PFAS-contaminated water would purify, I have bad news. Boiling water does not destroy or remove PFAS.
In fact, boiling increases the concentration of this contaminant because the water evaporates, leaving behind the PFAS. Read my article on boiling water and PFAS.
Water as an ingredient
Many foods are made with water as an ingredient. Some common dishes that include water are:
The more water that a recipe calls for, the more PFAS you are adding to your food. Dishes that are mostly water, like soups and gravies, give you more exposure.
If water is added to food and then baked off, such as in bread or pancakes, then it is likely that the PFAS will be left behind in the food. The amount of PFAS added to your food would depend on the PFAS concentration and the volume of water used.
What about children?
Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to PFAS. This is because their bodies are still developing, and they are more likely to suffer from health problems associated with PFAS exposure.
So, if you have children in your home, it’s especially important to be careful about using water that has PFAS in it. You may want to consider using an alternate water source for cooking or preparing food.
What if my food also has PFAS in it?
Some foods have PFAS in them. Recent testing conducted by the FDA found these forever chemicals in salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, and shrimp. If you cook these foods with PFAS-contaminated water, then you’re increasing your exposure above what it would already be.
Since PFAS exposure is cumulative, it is advisable to avoid cooking tainted food with contaminated water.
Importance of cooking method
Cooking and preparation methods that use water are:
Food that is boiled in water only takes in a little bit of PFAS because most of the water is not absorbed into the food. Exceptions to this are starchy foods such as dried pastas, beans, and rice which tend to increase in weight significantly due to the uptake of water.
Meats that are stewed or braised in water also tend to absorb a large amount of water. In these cases, PFAS would also be present in the cooked dish.
How Are You Exposed to PFAS
PFAS is seemingly everywhere. We are exposed to it in a variety of ways. The most common are:
- Eating food that has been prepared with contaminated water or cooked in PFAS-lined pans.
- Drinking water that is contaminated with PFAS.
- Working in jobs where PFAS are used (i.e. firefighters, factory workers).
- Living near a facility that manufactures or uses PFAS.
- Eating take-out or fast food that was wrapped in PFAS-lined packaging.
- Using products that contain or are made with PFAS such as: microwave popcorn bags, carpet, upholstery, cosmetics, and personal care products.
What Can You Do
If your water is contaminated with PFAS, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your family:
1 – Cook with bottled water
To minimize your exposure to PFAS, you should not cook with contaminated water. Here is what the Massachusetts Department of Environmental protection says about cooking with PFAS contaminated water:
“If PFAS contamination has been identified in your drinking water, there are several ways to limit your exposure such as drinking and cooking with bottled water that has been tested and found free of PFAS.”
2 – Treat your water to remove PFAS
The long-term solution is a whole-house PFAS treatment system. There are several treatment methods that work very well to remove PFAS from water, such as:
- Reverse Osmosis
- Activated Carbon Filtration
- Ion Exchange
These systems are very effective at removing PFAS from your water and can provide you with clean water for years to come.
3 – Test your water
If you are unsure if your water is contaminated with PFAS, you can have it tested. You can either bring a sample of your water to a local lab or order a home testing kit online.
There are many companies that offer home water testing kits, and you can find them by doing a quick search online. Be sure to choose a reputable company that is accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP).
4 – Educate yourself about PFAS
Being informed is a great way to protect yourself and your family from PFAS exposure. Knowing how PFAS can contaminate your food and water, and avoiding exposure, when possible, is the best way to reduce your risk.
Stay informed by reading this blog. It’s full of useful and relevant information about PFAS.
PFAS is a serious problem, and it’s important to do what you can to minimize your exposure. Cooking with contaminated water is one way that you can be exposed to PFAS, so it’s important to avoid it whenever possible.
Strategies we discussed in this article are:
- use bottled water or treated water for cooking and preparing food
- install a treatment system to remove PFAS from your water
- test your water to see if it’s contaminated
- educate yourself about PFAS to reduce your risk of exposure.
It’s important to take steps to protect yourself from PFAS exposure. I hope this article has been helpful. Please feel free to share it with anyone who might benefit from it.