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PFAS in Consumer Products

Many consumer products contain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), including food packaging, cosmetics, stain protection and waterproofing treatments, and cleaning products. When disposed as trash, these products contribute PFAS to landfill leachate. At unlined landfills, the PFAS contamination in the leachate can migrate directly into the surface and groundwaters. At landfills with liners and leachate collection systems, leachate is managed by wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Since PFAS do not breakdown, the compounds often called “forever chemicals” pass through the water treatment systems and into the receiving water resources and the associated biosolids and residuals.

WWTP biosolids are often applied to agricultural fields where they can contaminate soil, drinking water supplies, and groundwater, as well as fish, farm animals, and wildlife. In addition, the use of PFAS-containing products can lead directly to contamination of water supplies though discharge into WWTPs or septic systems from washing laundry and using cleaning products. PFAS contamination of drinking water, landfill leachate, and biosolids is widespread throughout New England. A key to ending this direct and indirect contamination of water resources is to significantly reduce or eliminate the purchase and use of products containing PFAS. However, most residents, businesses, and institutions are not aware that PFAS are in many of the products they purchase and what alternatives they can adopt instead.

In 2022, NEWMOA launched a Project to educate and train local officials, residents, institutions, and businesses in small low-income rural communities in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont on common consumer products that contain PFAS, their impacts on public health and the environment, and commercially available safer alternatives. The Project is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). NEWMOA will develop and disseminate handouts, a guide, and case studies; conduct community outreach; hold workshops; and provide hands-on technical assistance to targeted institutions to promote effective strategies to reduce PFAS. The Project will provide a model that other communities throughout the northeast can learn from and emulate.

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NEWMOA Contact
Jennifer Griffith