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PFAS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of more than 3000 man-made chemicals that include Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and the trademarked PFAS chemical, GenX. PFAS has been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world, including in the United States since the 1940s. Historically, PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. All PFAS chemicals are persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.

PFOA and PFOS are made up of “chains” of eight carbon atoms attached to fluorine and other atoms. Replacement chemicals, like GenX, have fewer carbon atoms in the chain, but share similar physical and chemical properties as their predecessors (e.g., they both repel oil and water). Industries in the United States have phased out production of PFOA and PFOS because of concerns related to health risks in humans and have been using replacement PFAS, such as GenX. There is a substantial body of knowledge for managing risk from PFOS and PFOA, but much less knowledge about the shorter chain replacement PFAS chemicals. 

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of their persistence in the environment; for example, the PFOA Stewardship Program is a phase out program where eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products as well as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.

In February 2019, the U.S. Environmental Proection Agency (EPA) released the PFAS Action Plan which outlines steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health. The Action Plan describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, approaches to addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS. For more information, visit our page on the EPA's PFAS Action Plan.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is taking steps to address PFAS in Tennessee. The department has formed an  interdisciplinary working group to identify potential activities likely to contribute to PFAS contamination, identify potential sites with PFAS contamination and determine the agency’s best course of action for protecting Tennesseans from adverse health effects resulting from PFAS contamination.

TDEC is also actively coordinating with the Tennessee Department of Health to determine opportunities to take proactive steps to address PFAS in Tennessee. This includes supporting each organization’s work through regular communication and updates as well as Department of Health staff participating in TDEC’s working group.

As the working group develops information or makes decisions relating to PFAS in the state of Tennessee, updates will be posted to this webpage.

Image 1. This hierarchy depicts the relationship between various PFAS chemicals.
Image 1. This hierarchy depicts the relationship between various PFAS chemicals.

Sampling for PFAS in Tennessee

In 2015 and 2016, as part of sampling requirements associated with the Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3), finished drinking water from 136 community drinking water systems in the state of Tennessee was sampled for Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), PFOA, Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), PFOS, and Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS). EPA selected these six PFAS compounds for inclusion in UCMR3 due to known widespread use, occurrence and persistence in the environment. More than five hundred samples were collected by Tennessee public water systems and only two, had detectable concentrations of PFAS above the Minimum Reporting Level (MRL). The MRL is defined by the National Water Quality Lab as the smallest measured concentration of a substance that can be reliably measured by using a given analytical method.

The two samples that had detectable concentrations of PFAS were well below the Health Advisory Level published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the event that PFOA or PFOS was detected in a public drinking water system above EPA’s Health Advisory Level, TDEC would alert the public through a number of mechanisms, including but not limited to; media releases, emails, written notices, and reverse dial messaging (when available). Additionally, the Department of Defense has voluntarily sampled a number of military bases around the state for the presence of several PFAS chemicals. 

The map below (which can also be accessed HERE) depicts the number of public drinking water system sampling events that occurred under the UCMR3 efforts by county as well as Department of Defense sites that have voluntarily sampled for PFAS chemicals. Graduated colors are used to represent the number of sampling events that occurred in each county. By clicking on a county a pop-up will display the number of sampling events that occurred, whether any sampling events were above the Minimum Reporting Level, and if so, what contaminant was identified and the level. Due to security restrictions, the state of Tennessee is not able to map public drinking water systems.

TDEC is currently identifying activities within the state which may result in the presence of PFAS (either through use or as a waste) and will subsequently conduct additional sampling. Results of these efforts will be added to this map as results are received.

For questions regarding TDEC’s efforts to investigate PFAS, please contact Kendra Abkowitz, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices, at kendra.abkowitz@tn.gov or by phone at (615) 532-8689.

This Page Last Updated: April 17, 2019 at 1:41 PM