PFAS is a group of chemicals that have been used in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, firefighting, and aerospace. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. PFAS has been found in water supplies across the country, and many people are concerned about the health effects of swimming in water that has PFAS contamination.
The consensus of state health agencies is that swimming in water that has PFAS contamination is generally safe. PFAS compounds are not readily absorbed through the skin and only small amounts of water may be accidentally swallowed while swimming. Children should be supervised to prevent them from swallowing water. People with cuts or open wounds should limit their time in the water.
In this blog post, we will answer the question – can you swim in water that has PFAS, and a lot more.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. There are more than 4,000 known PFAS compounds. These chemicals have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s.
These so-called “forever chemicals” don’t break down in the environment and can build up over time in the bodies of people and animals. PFAS are found throughout the world in food, drinking water, consumer products, and even in the air we breathe.
Read my comprehensive article on PFAS to learn more.
How does PFAS contaminate water
In recent years, PFAS have been found in drinking water supplies across the country. The most common way that PFAS enter the water supply is through discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants. Other sources of PFAS contamination include firefighting foam, landfills, and sewage sludge applied to fields as fertilizer.
Rivers and lakes can become contaminated when PFAS-containing products are used or disposed of near the water. These water resources are where many people swim for recreation.
Health concerns with PFAS
Exposure to PFAS can increase the risk of certain health problems, including:
- Cancer: PFOA and PFOS have been classified as probable human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
- Liver damage: Studies in animals have shown that PFOA and PFOS can cause liver damage.
- Thyroid problems: Studies in both humans and animals have shown that PFOA and PFOS can disrupt the normal function of the thyroid gland.
- Infertility: PFOA and PFOS exposure has been linked to fertility problems in both men and women.
- Pregnancy complications: Some studies have found that PFOA and PFOS exposure during pregnancy may be linked to low birth weight, preterm birth, and size at birth.
Can I Swim in Water with PFAS in It?
Health experts generally agree that swimming in water that has PFAS in it does not create a significant risk. Very little PFAS is absorbed through our skin, and, as a result, there is very low risk of negative health effects.
One risk factor is accidentally swallowing some water. This is a concern cited by many people. However, the amount of water that is typically swallowed while swimming is so small that it is not likely to cause any health problems.
Can PFAS be absorbed through our skin?
Fortunately, our skin is a very good barrier. It prevents most pathogens and chemicals from getting into our bodies. Studies have shown that only a small amount of PFAS can be absorbed through the skin.
People with cuts or open wounds should limit their time in the water. This is to prevent any PFAS in the water from entering the body through the open wound.
What about children?
Children are more likely to swallow water while swimming than adults. They are also more sensitive to the negative health effects cause by PFAS.
It is, therefore, very important to limit the amount of water they swallow. The best way to do this is to closely supervise them while they are in the water.
Can my dog swim in PFAS contaminated water?
Dogs love to swim and play in water. However, they can also swallow a lot of water while they are playing. Many pet owners are asking if it’s safe for their dogs to go into contaminated water.
I asked my veterinarian, and she said that it’s generally safe for dogs to swim in water with PFAS in it. If it’s safe enough for me, it’s safe enough for my dog.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The risk of PFAS exposure from swimming in contaminated water is low. However, there are some steps you can take to further reduce your risk:
- Avoid swallowing water while swimming.
- Limit your time in the water.
- Don’t swim if you have cuts or open wounds.
- Closely supervise children while they are swimming to prevent them from swallowing water.
- Choose swim areas that are less likely to be contaminated with PFAS.
If you use common sense, and follow the guidelines outlined above, you can swim with confidence knowing that the risk of PFAS exposure is very low.
How Are You Exposed to PFAS
PFAS enter the environment and our bodies in many ways. These compounds are virtually everywhere.
You can be exposed to PFAS through:
- Drinking water contaminated with PFAS.
- Eating food contaminated with PFAS.
- Using consumer products that contain PFAS.
- Working in certain industries where PFAS are used or produced.
- Living near sites where PFAS are produced or used.
- You can also be exposed to PFAS through the air, dust, and soil.
Can I swim in a swimming pool that has PFAS in it?
It is safe to swim in a swimming pool that has PFAS in it. However, you should avoid swallowing the water. According to the New York Department of Health, it is safe to use your pool or hot tub with PFAS water in it.
Can I use my hot tub if there is PFAS in the water?
You can use a hot tub, even if the water has PFAS in it. Your skin does not allow much PFAS to pass through it. Just make sure you do not swallow the water while you are in the hot tub.
Can I sail in water that has PFAS in it?
Sailing can be done in PFAS contaminated water with very low risk of exposure. The small amount of spray that is generated while sailing is not likely to cause any health problems.
Can I fish in water that has PFAS in it?
Fishing can be done in PFAS contaminated water with very low risk of exposure. However, you should not eat any fish that you catch. Fish accumulate PFAS in their flesh over time. Eating fish from contaminated water could lead to health problems.
Can I water ski in water that has PFAS in it?
Water skiing in PFAS contaminated water represents very little risk of exposure. Your skin is a good barrier and does not allow much PFAS to pass through it. The small amount of spray that is generated while skiing is not likely to cause any health problems. Be careful not to swallow water, especially when you fall!
Can I jet ski in water that has PFAS in it?
Jet skiing in PFAS contaminated water represents very little risk of exposure. Your skin is a very effective barrier, allowing little PFAS to enter your body. The little spray produced while jet skiing is unlikely to pose any health risks. Be careful not to swallow water, especially when you fall!
Swimming in water that has PFAS in it is relatively safe.
PFAS compounds are not readily absorbed through the skin and only small amounts of water are typically swallowed while swimming. Your overall exposure to these compounds is very low.
Children should be supervised to prevent them from swallowing water. People with cuts or open wounds should limit their time in the water. Pregnant women should take extra precautions.
It’s unfortunate that PFAS has contaminated many our favorite swimming spots. But, by following the guidelines above, you can enjoy a safe and fun summer.