PFAS in Drinking Water

Table of Contents

PFAS – are they in your tap water?

PFAS also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a broad group of chemicals made by man. These chemicals have been used in our industries for a long time and in the production of varieties of items which we use daily. Due to their persistent nature, PFAS have been tagged “forever chemicals.” Once released into the environment, they move through various environmental media – water, soil, air – where they accumulate over time and are passed through various food chains in ecosystems until it gets to us.

PFAS FAQ

What are examples of PFAS?
Several forms of PFAS exist in the environment, each having different properties, uses, and levels of toxicity. Examples of PFAS include; perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAA) like perfluoroalkyl carboxylates (PFCA) and perfluoroalkyl sulfonates (PFSA), perfluoroalkane sulfonamide substances, polyfluoroalkyl ether acids, fluorotelomer alcohols, olefins, and iodides.
Where are PFAS found?
These chemicals can be found in water, in soils especially those near landfills and disposal sites, in the air in the form of aerosols from fire extinguishing foams, and cleaning products. A number of PFAS were released on military bases in the United States in the form of fire fighting foams. Search your city to see if there was a PFAS leak near you.

PFAS are found in some personal care products like shampoo and cosmetics. Their ability to resist heat, stain, and moisture makes it suitable for use in products such as non-stick cookware clothing, carpet, furniture as well as food packagings like pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
How can one be exposed to PFAS?
Based on where these chemicals are present, exposure can be through:

Ingestion – drinking PFAS contaminated water, eating PFAS contaminated food, or accidentally ingesting PFAS contaminated soil
Inhalation – breathing in air contaminated with PFAS, dust, or aerosol 
Dermal absorption – direct skin contact with products such as cosmetics, and dust.
The use of PFAS contaminated products.
How do PFAS get into drinking water?
Once these substances are released from the principal site – which can be factory, industry, or even household – they are transported through the action of rain to nearby surface water. These substances also seep into soils, making their way to groundwater where they remain over time due to their persistent nature. Due to their solubility in water, PFAS are found in higher levels in water than other environmental media.
What is the PFAS limit in drinking water?
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the health advisory levels of PFAS in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOS and PFOA, some states have set their own PFAS limit in drinking water. Contact your state Department of Health.
How can I test for PFAS in drinking water?
If you’re looking to test your drinking water for possible PFAS contamination, such testing can be done through certified laboratories within your state. Provide clean water samples in clean containers to the test laboratory. Another way you can go about testing is by purchasing a test kit from certified laboratories to carry out testing. However, if your drinking water source is public, there’s a possibility that it has already been tested. Get in touch with health departments in your county or town.
What are the health effects of PFAS/drinking PFAS contaminated water?
The impact of PFAS on human health depends on the level, route of exposure, and time of exposure. Lots of research have been carried out by research scientist and government agencies like Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine how PFAS affect human health. Results from the research have shown that exposure to PFAS affects various systems of the body – respiratory, immune, cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, excretory – and also affects the fetus during pregnancy, resulting in several birth-related issues.
How can PFAS be removed in drinking water?
PFAS can be removed from drinking water through various water treatment options and technologies such as reverse osmosis, activated carbon filtration, and anion exchange treatment. When making a purchase, look out for products certified to NSF/ANSI 53 for filters or NSF/ANSI 58 for reverse osmosis RO systems.
How can one limit exposure to PFAS in drinking water?
In cases where your drinking water source contains high levels of PFAS, switching to a different source will reduce your exposure. Use bottled water or water from a tested source. Avoid boiling your water as it concentrates the chemicals.
What is the government doing?
The EPA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) among other agencies are working and researching to understand the health effects, exposure routes, and treatment options. The government is also working towards regulating PFAS in various consumer products to limit exposure. Regular testing of water sources is also carried out by health departments across government agencies.