Expert weighs in on ‘forever chemicals’ in tap water

Do you drink Sydney tap water? Have you heard of ‘forever chemicals’?

Last week it was reported that tap water across multiple suburbs in Sydney, such as Quakers Hill, Liverpool, Blacktown and Campbelltown may contain dangerous levels of PFAS chemicals.

Experts have warned that these chemicals, dubbed ‘forever chemicals’, are present in Sydney’s tap water at 140 times the maximum level the US will allow, calling the situation a ‘national disgrace’.

Professor Stuart Khan, an expert in drinking water quality from the University of Sydney, joined 2SER breakfast to discuss what the presence of these contaminants in our drinking water means for our health.

PFAS chemicals have been linked to health concerns such as low birth weights, an increased risk of asthma and fertility issues. Experts are also concerned about the substances impact on the body’s ability to develop antibodies in response to vaccines or viruses.

More recently, PFAS has been confirmed by agencies to be cancer causing.

Dr Khan believes that tap water is not the major source of our exposure to ‘forever chemicals’.

Aside from drinking water, Dr Khan claims that we should be doing more to understand some of the more domestic sources of exposure to PFAS in food and consumer products.

“I’m very hesitant to overestimate the amount that’s actually in water and that being our major source of exposure. Where we really come into contact with these chemicals is in food and in food packaging”, he said.

“All of the many sorts of greaseproof papers that we use in food wrapping (such as) pizza boxes (and) microwave popcorn, these all contain PFAS, and they’re our major source of exposure to these contaminants”.

Dr Khan believes that for the most part PFAS concentrations in Sydney’s tap water are at “safe levels” and are similar to other cities in Australia and globally.

The recent change of guidelines on acceptable levels of PFAS in the United States drinking water has triggered a review of Australia’s drinking water guidelines.

“The timeline on which we’re doing that is actually very good”, Dr Khan said.

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