Three Emerging Contaminants

“Each year we learn more about the harmful effects of substances we once thought were safe to use.”



  • Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)
  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • Trihalomethanes (TTHMs)

Emerging Contaminants in the Headlines

There are hundreds of chemicals that we use each day.  Gasoline itself consists of over 150 compounds.  Each year we learn more about the harmful effects of substances we once thought were safe to use, such as asbestos. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is our nation’s lead in investigating the potentially toxic effects of the substances that we use.  If a substance is deemed toxic, the government may decide to ban it or regulate its use.  Many substances that are banned or highly regulated will be phased out and replaced with safer ones.   Here we discuss three substances that aren’t new, but have become more widely evident in the last decade because of continually improving chemical analysis methodologies that have lowered the limits of detection to the level of parts per trillion.  These three substances are deemed “emerging contaminants” because of their widespread distribution and persistence in the environment – particularly our drinking supplies.  Two are products we have used for over 50 years and the last is a by-product of our attempts to purify our drinking water.

Because they deter water, grease and oil, the following two substances have proven useful for a variety of manufacturing processes and industrial applications including in the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and in some types of fire-fighting foam.

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