Down the Drain with PFAS: The Latest on Testing, Measuring, and Mitigating Community Water Contamination

May 1, 2018
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

This webinar is part of a series organized by CHE and the Boston University Superfund Research Program (BUSRP). Learn more about the CHE-BUSRP Partnership.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe since the 1940s. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to effects on health such as increased cholesterol levels, weight profiles and changes in liver function, changes in growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children, immune system function, lowering a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, decreased birth weight in infants, interference with the body’s natural hormones, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and increased risk of testicular and kidney cancers.

PFAS have been used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and chemical reactions, and repel oil, stains, grease, and water, such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, water-repellant clothing, paper and cardboard food packaging, and fire-fighting foams. While consumer products and food are a large source of exposure to these chemicals for most people, drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies. PFAS do not break down easily and therefore persist for a very long time in the environment, especially in water. Elevated levels of PFAS have been detected in hundreds of public water systems in the US. This webinar focused on the latest information about PFAS exposure and health, laboratory measures and interpretation of contamination and exposure data, and steps that communities should take when drinking water contamination by PFAS is discovered.

Note: This webinar is a follow-up to our teleconference call on this topic in December 2016, Out of the Frying Pan, into the Drinking Water: Health Hazards and Community Responses to Water Contaminated with PFCs


Featured Speakers

Tom WebsterTom Webster, DSc, is a professor of environmental health at Boston University's School of Public Health. Dr. Webster has several main research areas: 1) exposure routes and health hazards of chemicals used in consumer products, especially polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), other flame retardants, and perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS); 2) mixtures of chemicals (with applications in toxicology and epidemiology); 3) endocrine disruption; 4) methodological aspects of environmental epidemiology, particularly issues in spatial epidemiology such as disease mapping and clusters, ecologic bias, and the use of combinations of individual and group level data. Like the rest of his department,  he is very interested in the community context of environmental health. Dr. Webster served on the National Research Council’s Subcommittee on Fluoride in Drinking Water and the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Making Best Use of the Agent Orange Exposure Reconstruction Model.


Nancy Rothman, PhD, is CEO and Principal Scientist of New Environmental Horizon, Inc. Dr. Rothman is a recognized expert in organic environmental chemistry. Dr. Rothman has over 25 years of experience in the development of methods, analysis, and data evaluation for semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), including dioxins/furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). She applies her depth of experience to evaluate usability of current and historical data and in the development and review of project-specific Work Plans and Quality Assurance Project Plans (QAPP) for environmental investigations in support of NOAA Natural Resource Damage Assessments, USEPA Superfund, US Army Corps of Engineers, and state-led programs. Dr. Rothman has successfully provided expert testimony and litigation support for complex environmental data issues involving analyses of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), VOCs, and PCBs.


Richard Spiese has been with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Management Division since 1987. His job duties include overseeing the cleanup of hazardous waste sites in the Sites Management Section, responding to spills on the Waste Management Division’s Spill Team, and responding to hazardous materials emergencies as part of the Public Safety Division’s Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team. He has been in the EPA Region I Regional Response Team as the governor’s designee since 1992 and on the State Emergency Response Commission since 1994. He served on the ASTSWMO Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Task Force 1994 to 2008, and was the co-chair from 1996-2010. He rejoined this Task Force in 2014 and just recently stepped down from this position. He joined the Interstate Technology Regulatory Commission (ITRC) Board in 2016 as the State At Large Member. In 2017 he became the Team Leader Liaison to the ITRC Board. He is also the writing section lead for aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) for the ITRC per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Technical Document Team. In February of 2016 he began an investigation into PFAS contamination in Bennington, Vermont, which continues today. Spiese has a B.S. from the Pennsylvania State University in Geological Sciences and has taken numerous Master’s level environmental engineering courses at the University of Vermont.   


This webinar was moderated by Wendy Heiger-Bernays, PhD, Clinical Professor of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. 

This webinar lasted for 60 minutes and was recorded for our call and webinar archive.