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Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are PFAS?

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a family of chemicals used since the 1950s to manufacture stain-resistant, water-resistant, and non-stick products. PFAS are widely used in common consumer products such as coatings on food packaging, outdoor clothing, carpets, leather goods, ski and snowboard waxes, certain types of firefighting foam, and more.

PFAS, known as the “forever chemicals,” stays in the environment for a long time and does not break down easily. As a result, PFAS are widely detected in soil, water, air, and food. Some PFAS can accumulate in the food chain. Exposure can occur when someone uses certain products that contain PFAS, eats PFAS-contaminated food, or drinks PFAS-contaminated water. When ingested, some PFAS can build up in the body, and, over time, these PFAS may increase to a level where health effects could occur.

PFAS are water-soluble. Over time PFAS from some firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories, and other releases can seep into surface soils. From there, PFAS can leach into groundwater or surface water and can contaminate drinking water. PFAS have also been found in rivers, lakes, fish, and wildlife.

Where are PFAS Substances Commonly Found?

Click on the video/graphic below to learn where PFAS are found.

Animated graphic of what PFAS are found in with the DWWD Seal. Image of a paint can (text: paints, varnishes, and sealants. Image of shampoo, dental floss, makeup (text: certain personal care items such as shampoos, dental floss, and cosmetics. Image of cleaning product containers (text: household cleaning products and pesticides). Image of a landfill with seagulls and trash (text: soil and water near waste sites/landfills). Image of fast food packaging and candy wrappers (text: food packaging, fast food containers, and candy wrappers). Image of a fire extinguisher (text: fire extinguishing foam). Image of non-stick cookware and utensils (text: non-stick cookware and utensils). Image of rain boots and a rain jacket (text: waterproof clothing and shoes). 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS substances are commonly found in:

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Chrome plating, electronics, and certain textile and paper manufacturers.

At landfills, disposal sites, and hazardous waste sites such as those that fall under the federal Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act programs.

In aqueous film-forming foams (or AFFFs) used to extinguish flammable liquid-based fires. Such foams are used in training and emergency response events at airports, shipyards, military bases, firefighting training facilities, chemical plants, and refineries.

For example, in fish caught from water contaminated by PFAS and dairy products from livestock exposed to PFAS.

Grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers.

For example, in stain and water-repellent used on carpets, upholstery, clothing, and other fabrics; cleaning products; non-stick cookware; paints, varnishes, and sealants.

For example, certain shampoos, dental floss, and cosmetics.

In public drinking water systems, rivers, streams, brooks, oceans, and private drinking water wells.

For example, fertilizer from wastewater treatment plants that are used on agricultural lands can affect ground and surface water and animals that graze on the land.

What Health Effects are Associated with PFAS?

According to the EPA, current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects. Research is also underway to better understand the health effects associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS over long periods of time, especially in children.

Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.

If you have specific questions/concerns about how PFAS can affect your health, please contact your medical care provider.

What is the PFAS Standard for MA Public Water Suppliers?

In October 2020, MassDEP published its PFAS public drinking water standard or Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Level (MMCL) of 20 parts per trillion (ppt).

The six PFAS are: perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS); perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS); perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA); perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA); and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA).

MassDEP abbreviates this set of six PFAS as “PFAS6.” This drinking water standard is set to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water.


Image of a swimming pool (Right) How Much is One Part Per Trillion?  - 1 second in 32,000 years - 1 ft² in the State of Maine - 1 drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools - $1.20 out of all US currency in circulation - 1 inch in 643 trips around Massachusthe earth.
Graphic sourced from the Massachusetts Water Works Association.

Does the District's Water Currently Have PFAS?

Yes. The District has detected PFAS in its water sources. However, PFAS levels are below the State’s regulatory standard (not exceeding 20 ppt quarterly). 

MCL compliance is calculated using the average of the monthly samples over a quarter (four quarters including, January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December). 

Reference monthly testing results below.

Dedham-Westwood Water District Monthly PFAS Sampling Results

October 2022 - September 2023

No Data Found

PFAS Presentation
to the Town of Westwood Select Board

February 13, 2023

Additional Frequently Asked PFAS-related Questions

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Your drinking water is groundwater, water that is present below the earth’s surface in sand and gravel pore spaces from seventeen local wells. Four wells are located in Westwood by the Neponset River near University Avenue, and one well is located by Rock Meadow Brook near Dover Road. In Dedham, one well is adjacent to the Neponset River near University Avenue, and eleven wells are located by the Charles River near Bridge Street.

In the summer, water is purchased from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to meet peak demand.

Customers can install a home water filter to reduce PFAS levels. However, the current water filters on the market reduce PFOS and PFOA chemicals to below 70 ppt, which met the EPA’s 2016 interim health advisory level. Massachusetts has a significantly lower standard for PFAS6, 20 ppt, meaning the devices are not designed to meet the State’s standards. Reference MassDEP for additional information.

The District monitors for PFAS by sampling monthly at the two treatment plant effluents. Water samples are sent to a PFAS-approved testing laboratory, and results are reported to the District. Testing results are sent to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection monthly.

If the PFAS6 result exceeds the MCL of 20 parts per trillion in a single monthly sample, the District will issue a public education document within 30 days or as soon as reasonably possible.

If the PFAS6 MCL occurs when the average of all monthly samples collected over a quarter exceeds the MCL of 20 parts per trillion, the District must issue a public notice within 30 days or as soon as reasonably possible.

Notifications will be posted on the District’s Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Information will also be distributed to both the towns of Dedham and Westwood

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