Sources of PFOA Contamination: Where Does It Come From and How Does It Spread in New Hampshire?

PFAS in Merrimack Water Supply

Residents in New Hampshire have most likely heard of the dangers that untreated water can pose to someone’s health. One of these dangers is found in the PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) contaminant, otherwise known as an infamous “forever chemical.” Knowing how to recognize sources of PFOA can help prevent waterborne illnesses statewide. In this article, we will discuss PFOA’s origins and health risks, the different sources of PFOA contamination and their tendency to spread, and how to keep your health and your family safe.

Background on Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Contamination

Origins of PFOA

Despite its long name, the concept of perfluorooctanoic acid is relatively easy to understand. In the early twentieth century, the chemical was created in a lab as a byproduct of making nonstick coatings for various items like cookware, electronics, food packaging, and even carpets. While it was nice to have stain resistance on everyday tools and home goods, PFOA was later discovered to be non-degradable in the environment. Because the PFOA chemicals were formed in a process favoring stability for nonstick products, they would consequently defy the natural ways of decomposition.  So, while companies have strayed from producing PFOA, a large remnant of the chemical is still waiting idly in the environment to contaminate our resources.

When online reports discuss PFOA, they often tend to group them with perfluorooctane sulfonate, which is referred to as a PFO. Together, these two chemicals fit into the category of PFAs, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl acids. In fact, these are not the only types of “forever chemicals’: there are over nine thousand! Because of their durable carbon-fluorine bond, PFAs can build up in both natural and bodily environments.

Health Risks of PFOA

Even though PFOA is a byproduct in manufacturing commercial products, it can be found in the human bloodstream. If you’re wondering how it gets there, one of the main sources is through the air and water, which we’ll cover more thoroughly later.  The higher the level of PFOA, the higher the risk of kidney, liver, and thyroid diseases, damage to the immune and reproductive systems, and higher cholesterol levels.  As with all environmental affairs, more research must be conducted to specify PFOA’s long-term influence on the human body.

Can PFOA cause cancer?

Ever since the dangers of PFAs have been acknowledged, there has been a large discussion on whether PFOA causes cancer, and scientists have conducted tests to determine the carcinogenicity of PFOA in humans. When they used animals as specimens, they found these chemicals toxic. Other studies featured human specimens who had worked in PFOA-producing facilities; the results showed some connections to kidney and testicular cancer, while thyroid cancer’s probability was small and possibly unrelated. More research on human effects has shown potential links to bladder, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the American Cancer Society recognize PFOA as a potential carcinogen.  It can be concluded that PFOA is not a fully confirmed cause of cancer, but it may be linked. As mentioned before, it may take more time and more tests to understand the true nature of PFOA regarding cancer fully, but it is not healthy for the human body.

Known Sources of PFOA Contamination

To protect ourselves from the PFA chemicals, we need to be aware of their whereabouts in New Hampshire. View this map of PFA sampling sites to see where the state has taken measures to document the results of PFA presence.

Imported Goods

After learning about “forever chemicals,” New Hampshire residents might go to the grocery store and wonder which products have PFOA embedded in their material. It should be noted that while most American manufacturing companies have ceased production of the dangerous chemical, the laws preventing its production do not apply to imports from other countries. Because the United States actively trades with other countries worldwide, we still receive products made with PFOA. This keeps PFOA in the general circle of daily life and ingrains its impact further into the future.

New Hampshire’s Industrial Companies

The chemical can be found in the air, soil, and nearby water forms in areas close to old PFOA manufacturing sites. For example, the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics company emitted PFAs into the air around Merrimack, NH, before the company was investigated by environmental protection agencies in 2016.

Aqueous Film Forming Foam

Firefighters risk their lives, saving us from wildfires in our buildings and homes. However, when they spray their firefighting foam to smother the flames, they might release PFOA into the air and the near vicinity of unprotected people. As of 2019, at least five New Hampshire firefighting tool manufacturers were sued under the pretense of selling products made with PFA toxic foam without telling their customers of its malicious nature.

Landfills and Waste Disposal

Because landfills are places for waste to be dumped, it often fills up with PFOA-infused items, from food bags and containers to paints and adhesives to contaminated streams of PFA-infected water. They often act as a gathering place for PFA to accumulate in the environment. Think of the innocent-looking pieces of trash you throw away daily; the ink on the wrapper of your favorite fast food burger might contain a PFA to keep the grease from leaking through.

How does PFOA spread in New Hampshire?

Interestingly enough, the spread of the artificial PFOA chemical is brought upon by the natural world: air, soil, and water.


Without diving too deep into the intricacies of the science of PFOA, we can explain this kind of PFOA dispersion by the previous Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics example. Because the harmful chemicals were emitted from ovens into the air, the PFAs were exposed to other natural resources. According to the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council, air can transport these chemicals through the wind in all directions.


When the PFOA is dispersed in the wind, its complex properties allow it to settle into the soil. The soil type can impact the absorption of PFAs, which affects concentration. Because plants grow their roots in the ground, they are directly exposed to the newly absorbed PFOA. This means that the animals and humans eating these exposed plants would affect the consumers.


The most worrying transporter of them all is water. It can carry the PFOA contaminants from adjacent soil and carry them down streams created by flooding and rainwater. This inundation of toxins would mean that the water would take these harmful chemicals to further places to be absorbed in more soil or to connect with drinking water for the public community. In addition, water can evaporate into water vapor, which can carry the contaminants through the air again.

Your Next Steps to Protect from PFOA Contamination

To protect you and your loved ones from dangerous PFOA contamination, NH Tap recommends a pfas water test to determine your next steps in PFA prevention.  While your water is being tested for possible treatment, you may consider setting aside some time to research current products created using PFOA, like kitchen utensils and food packaging. While these chemicals are known to be “forever,” you can still take the proper steps with NH Tap to ensure that your family’s health and wellness can be just as strong for decades to come.


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