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What Can You Do About PFAS in Your Water?

By Sasha Sosnowski

From countless small-town lawsuits to big-budget Hollywood movies (2019’s Dark Waters) to pushes for state and federal legislation, PFAS—or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—have become a major talking point in recent years, and for good reason. Amid the flurry of information, you may be wondering how PFAS directly impact your life and what you can do about them. [1] Thankfully, there are a number of options available to help you stay vigilant and informed about your daily water supply. 

How Common Are PFAS in US Drinking Water?

Introduced to households in the 1950s, PFAS (and with that PFOS, PFOA, and GenX) are a class of more than 4,700 chemicals used to make products grease- or waterproof and they’ve turned up everywhere from firefighting foam and nonstick cookware to dental floss, sofas, mattress pads and camping gear. [2] Now more commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” since they do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in living organisms, their practical ubiquity and checkered disposal history suggest it’s safe to assume PFAS have seeped into nearly every living thing. 

Is There a Safe Limit for PFAS in Tap Water?

The EPA has not yet set a legal limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but independent studies have found that a safe level is 1 ppt (part-per-trillion) or less. [3] Exposure to even low levels of PFAS can increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development, reduce vaccine effectiveness, and cause a wide range of health issues. [4]

What Is the Best Way to Remove Forever Chemicals from Tap Water?

While experts still haven’t developed a technology that’s going to remove 100% of PFAS, the EPA recommends the following filtration system technologies [5]:

  • Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC): Installable at both the point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU), chemicals like PFAS stick to the carbon granules as they pass through. Point-of-use GAC installations score slightly higher in consistency of PFAS removal. However, GAC’s efficiency is mostly limited to longer chain PFAS (like PFOA and PFOS). Absorption rates reduce drastically with shorter chain PFAS (such as PFBA—e.g. paper food packaging and stain-resistance, and PFBS—e.g. flame-retardation and pesticides).  
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO): While carbon filtration and reverse osmosis are two different processes that often work in conjunction with one another, reverse osmosis is the pressurized component that separates dissolved inorganic compounds (and radionuclides) by pushing water through a selective membrane of small pores. (Carbon filters are often added before such a system to protect the RO membrane from damage that can occur when exposed to chlorine.) Rated extremely effective against most common PFAS by the EPA.
  • Nanofiltration (NF): Similar to reverse osmosis (RO), nanofiltration involves pressure and polymer membranes. NF delivers coarser filtration, however, allowing the water to retain minerals that RO would otherwise remove. The EPA considers NF to be extremely effective against a range of PFAS.
  • Ion Exchange Resins (IX): This process involves small beads (called resins) made of safe hydrocarbons that work like magnets. The chemicals stick to the beads while the water passes through. IX systems are common in home water softening and for a wide variety of industrial uses.
  • While each of the systems above varies in price, installation and operational upkeep, they have proven very effective and are the best options available on the market today. Nevertheless, precise effectiveness is dependent on the particular PFAS that exist in your water. There is no one-size-fits-all solution available yet. If you have any concerns we highly recommend you test your water for PFAS before installing an expensive filter system.

    PFAS Water Test

    Test Your Water for PFAS

    Do Household Pitcher Filters, Such as Brita or Pur, Filter PFAS?

    Even though everyday household water pitcher filters like those offered by Brita and Pur and Zero are more affordable than the options listed aboves, everyday pitcher systems have not been designed to remove forever chemicals or even reduce their concentration in your tap water. 

    What About a Berkey Filter System?*

    Berkey water filter systems have become a very popular alternative to more cumbersome installation systems, offering an impressive success rate with a range of contaminants. However, tests have shown inconsistency in effectiveness against PFAS among their line of products, some scoring quite low. That’s why it’s imperative to test your water first, then compare filtration systems to be certain you’re choosing the right one for your household.

    Stay Informed—Test Your Water!

    TEST YOUR WATER FOR PFA/PFOA/PFOS
    TEST YOUR WATER FOR GENX and PFAS
    TALK TO AN EXPERT

    *Subject to further research. We’ll be happy to update this with conclusive results.

    Talk to a water quality expert

    It's hard to get trustworthy advice when it comes to your drinking water, so we made Tips for Taps to help answer your questions. Order a Tap Score Water Test and receive personalized support from professional engineers and scientists by phone, email and chat.