Environmental Director of the Water Quality Division Karl Rockeman explains that per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, can be in places you least expect.

“This is a whole family of chemicals that can cause concerns in the environment and human health,” Rockeman said.

Dating back to the mid-1900s, these chemicals have been around for some time. Now they can be found virtually everywhere– in furniture, clothing, food packaging, and even the foam used by firefighters to fight fires.

“These chemicals have been around for quite a while and were usually developed in the 1940s and 50s and have been pretty common usage in a variety of products since probably the 1950s,” Rockeman said.

These chemicals can affect different systems within the human body.

“We’re fortunate; we have not had the large manufacturing of these chemicals or products of using these chemicals. What we would typically see in North Dakota is exposures from the consumer products themselves,” Rockeman said.

Where have these chemicals been detected in North Dakota? Rockeman said they’re typically found from the foam used by firefighters.

“Our drinking systems are good, that is a positive which other states have had to deal with. We haven’t had to deal with it here. We do have some locations, particularly where fire training has happened where there is some contamination in the ground,” Rockeman said.

Rockeman said research has been going into this for the past couple of years and that water will continue to be tested. He said that as the science develops, lower levels can be detected. The EPA is still evaluating the toxicity of the chemicals and what they find out will be shared with the department.