Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a...

Eva Stebel, water researcher, pours a water sample into a smaller glass container for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response in Cincinnati.  Credit: AP/Joshua A. Bickel

After years of anticipation, the federal government announced Wednesday it is setting strict national limits on the amount of PFAS or “forever chemicals” allowed in drinking water. Experts say these chemicals are linked to negative health impacts such as cancer and babies born at lower birth weights. The new national standards are lower than New York’s current standards for PFAS in drinking water. Here is what you need to know:

What are PFAS or 'forever chemicals?'

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluorinated substances, manufactured chemicals used in both industry and consumer products since the 1940s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. PFAS chemicals make clothes and carpets resistant to stains and keep food from adhering to packaging and cookware. The molecules in PFAS chemicals have a “chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms,” a bond so strong that it does not break down easily in people, animals and the environment, according to the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences. This is why they are often called “forever chemicals.”

What are the PFAS being limited by the new standards?

There are thousands of different PFAS, according to the EPA. Two of the most common are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Several states, including New York, have already limited the amount of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. The new national standard of 4.0 parts per trillion is lower than New York's standard of 10 parts per trillion.

In addition, the EPA is setting limits on three other PFAD: PFNA, PFHxS and HFPO-DA, also known as “Gen-X Chemicals,” to 10 parts per trillion, as well as any mixture of two or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and “GenX Chemicals.”

How are people exposed to PFAS?

Industrial uses of PFAS, such as in the automotive, aerospace and construction industries, can cause these chemicals to leak into soil, water and air. People are exposed when they eat food or drink water contaminated with PFAS, use products made with PFAS or breathe air containing PFAS, according to the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences.

What are some of the health effects associated with these PFAS?

PFAS chemicals have been linked to increases in cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, as well as kidney and testicular cancer.

“There are effects on the thyroid gland and thyroid function, fetal development and reproductive health,” said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, division chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health and Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. “There's strong evidence on testicular cancer for men and there's emerging data on a number of other cancers. … There’s a range of potentially very serious health effects. “

How can I reduce my exposure to PFAS?

If you get your water from a public drinking water system, find out if they have tested for levels of PFAS. If you have well water, conduct regular testing with a state-certified laboratory.

You can also install filters to lower the levels of PFAS in your water, but make sure they are certified. The EPA said the following filters can be effective at reducing PFAS: Charcoal (granular activated carbon or GAC), filters that use carbon to trap chemicals as water passes through them; Reverse osmosis (RO) systems, a process that forces water through an extremely thin barrier that separates chemicals from the water; and ion-exchange resins, tiny beads that act like powerful magnets to keep contaminated materials from passing through the water system.

People can also refer to the state's drinking water contaminants page.

Public water suppliers that serve 100,000 or more also file Annual Water Quality Reports

What everyday household products should be avoided?

Consumer Reports tested numerous items and found PFAS in some fast-food burger wrappers and takeout salad containers. Its experts said people should transfer food out of packaging as soon as possible and avoid reheating in takeout containers. Some restaurants have pledged to remove PFAS from their containers.

Consumer Reports also suggests people who want to avoid PFAS not use water-resistant cosmetics and products with PTFE or “fluoro-” in the ingredient list. Cookware made of ceramic, cast iron or steel do not have PFAS. Experts said PFAS are less likely to be released from nonstick products if they are not scraped with metal cooking utensils or abrasive cleaners.

Investigators search Heuermann's home … Homeless shelter to close … Shops with cafes Credit: Newsday

School budget voting ... Heuermann's home searched ... Trump trial ... Suffolk pays millions in lawsuits

Investigators search Heuermann's home … Homeless shelter to close … Shops with cafes Credit: Newsday

School budget voting ... Heuermann's home searched ... Trump trial ... Suffolk pays millions in lawsuits

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME