PFAS and Forever Chemicals – A New Man-Made Cycle (The PFAS Cycle) That Must be Broken

PFAS and Forever Chemicals – A New Man-Made Cycle  (The PFAS Cycle)  That Must be Broken
It is critical that we recognize that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are part of an unnatural, man-made cycle that influences the Water Cycle.

In preparing this article, we reviewed some of the technical information available from the PADEP and others.

It is critical that we recognize that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are part of an unnatural, man-made cycle that influences the Water Cycle, Nutrient Cycles, and the Rock-Soil Cycle. Unlike the water cycle which has no real beginning or end, the PFAS Cycle has a clear beginning and it is “US” (Humans). We have created this nightmare, but at first it was not thought to be a nightmare, but something that would help in everyday life. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a grouping of man-made fluorinated organic chemicals that have a wide range of use in industrial application and commercial goods. These are man-made chemicals or derivatives that are long-chain compounds that contain Carbon-Fluorine and Carbon-Carbon bonds that are very strong, do NOT occur naturally, and are difficult to break down, hence, the “forever” chemicals. The name “forever chemicals” is very misleading. These chemicals do not last forever, but can take a lot of time and energy to break down and they can bioaccumulate in humans, animals, and the environment. The biological half-life of a chemical is the amount of time it takes for 50% of the substance to be metabolized and/or eliminated from the body. A few examples of PFAS biological half-lives are:

PFBA: 72 to 81 hours
PFOA: 2.1 to 10.1 years
PFOS: 3.3 to 27 years
PFHxS: 4.7 to 35 years  (Source)

PFAS are resistant to oil, water, heat, and grease. Because of these characteristics, they found initial applications in the 1940s in applications related to water and stain-resistant clothing, fabrics, carpeting, paints, cleaning products, and firefighting foams on military bases and airfields. Because these products could prevent or inhibit grease migration and moisture penetration, the FDA approved the use of these chemicals for food packaging, cookware, and food processing and Long-chain PFCs (long-chain perfluorinated compounds) for specific food-contact uses such as coatings on fast-food wrappers, to-go boxes, and pizza boxes.  Currently, the EPA is proposing to classify some PFAS as hazardous substances ;the EPA just recently set a primary drinking water limit for six PFAS chemicals: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and HFPO-DA (GenX Chemicals).  This final ruling includes Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), which are legally enforceable limits, and MCL Goals (MCLG), which are non-enforceable public health goals.

The new standards are as follows:

 Compound Final MCLG Final MCL (enforceable levels)
PFOA Zero 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt) (also expressed as ng/L)
PFOS Zero 4.0 ppt
PFHxS 10 ppt 10 ppt
PFNA 10 ppt 10 ppt
HFPO-DA (commonly known as GenX Chemicals) 10 ppt 10 ppt
Mixtures containing two or more of PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA, and PFBS 1 (unitless) Hazard Index

1 (unitless)
Hazard Index


Note: It appears that the health-based limit for PFBS is still 2000 ppt and the Hazard Index is based on a running annual average, so this may require 4 quarters of testing data and not just one sample.

What is the PFAS Cycle?

Our current approach to managing these chemicals is to attempt to remove them from consumer products and to remove them from the waste stream, but they are currently in both. PFAS are everywhere: “in our blood, in every ocean, and now part of the Water and Earth Cycle for the planet.  Approximately 80% of PFAS that enter our bodies are from consumer products and 20% enter via drinking water. PFAS are being transported through the water cycle (dry fall and wet fall deposition) and have entered the food web. PFAS are bioaccumulating, but although the potential for harm is not clearly understood, that does not prevent the EPA from limiting potential exposure. 

In their (PADEP) initial attempts to manage PFAS, they created  a new PFAS Cycle.  Through managing fires and making consumer products, we introduced PFAS to our waste stream and ourselves.  Since the chemicals are not easily broken down, our wastewater management systems introduced the chemicals directly to our streams, lakes, and rivers and, ultimately, the ocean.   The biosolids management practices introduced these chemicals to our agricultural areas which includes the food web and the manufacturing process; wind erosion has introduced these chemicals to dry deposition (fine particles and aerosols)  or wet deposition (precipitation or rainfall). Note: Dry deposition includes the particles that settle out of the atmosphere under the influence of gravity.  These particles typically contain some moisture attached to the particles and other gasses and other contaminants. 

What the KnowYourH2O Team learned from this review is that we can act to attempt to break the PFAS Cycle.

PFAS and related compounds do not have a smell, taste, or other property you can
detect at the level that is a potential health concern. Therefore, you need to be proactive and learn about the hazards in your community: review Consumer Confidence Reports for your water, read the label on products you are using, and Get Your Drinking Water Tested.

  1. We can attempt to eliminate the use of consumer products that contain PFAS, but a lot of learning is needed.   It has been estimated that consumer product exposure makes up to 80% of our exposure to these chemicals or products.
  2. We can use fact-based education to inform the public and our elected officials and our community. 
  3. We can support research and development of technologies that can be used to properly and completely destroy and break down these chemicals, approaches such as a fungal  or plant-based approach
  4. Before installing a water treatment system for your drinking water or a point-of-use barrier filter,  we recommend getting the water tested.  For Well Water sources we recommend testing for 18 PFAS Chemicals , and for City Water we recommend testing for at least PFOA and PFOS.   However, remember that drinking water may only represent 20% of your total daily exposure to these chemicals.


To learn more about the PFAS Cycle and the associated waste streams, please visit the Entech Engineering Water, Wastewater, Industrial, Biosolids - PFAS Central for The Latest News (Note: This information is being updated and changed regularly).

Additional Information

PFAS Explained
How PFAS Cycle Through the Environment
’Forever chemicals’ may pose a bigger risk to our health than scientists thought