Water Contamination from PFOA, PFOS, PFAS

PFOAs take a stance with non-stick cookware. Unfortunately, their stance isn't backing down.

By: Alyssa Scavetta

Cleaning products, leather, textiles, non-stick cookware, pesticides, and more all contain a common factor: synthetic chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS refers to a group of man-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals that were widely used in common household products across the world from the 1940s until the early 2000s when scientists became aware of their toxicity. There are nearly 5,000 different types of PFAS chemicals, but the most well known are PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluoroctanesulfonic acid) which have been linked to a range of health concerns including cancer and birth defects.

In 2006 the EPA invited eight leading companies in the PFAS industry to join a Global Stewardship Program, which resulted in two goals:

  • A 95% reduction in PFOA emissions and product content by 2010
  • The complete elimination of these chemicals in products and from emissions by 2015

All companies concerned have indicated that they have met the EPA’s Stewardship Program goals, but that doesn’t mean this harmful contaminant isn’t still present and causing problems.

To help you understand what PFAS are and why they are such a concern, we’ve created this comprehensive guide with everything you should know about these chemicals.

How are people exposed to pfas?

Although PFAS including PFOA and PFOS have been phased out of production, they are persistent, meaning they do not break down in the environment, and they will be present for years to come. In fact, these substances are bio-accumulative -- they literally accumulate faster than they break down.

EWG Interactive PFOA map

Click the image above to view EWG’s interactive PFOA map.

Products manufactured years ago still expose people to these contaminants. When PFAS-containing products are discarded they will likely end up in a landfill, which is generally how these chemicals enter the soil and water supply.

Harvard researchers found detectable levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in 194 US water supplies. They found that exposure to trace amounts of these chemicals impact the immune system, and significant exposure has even been linked to possible birth defects, cancer, and heart disease.

They found that exposure to trace amounts of these chemicals impact the immune system, and significant exposure has even been linked to possible birth defects, cancer, and heart disease.”

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFAS, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” said Xindi Hu, the lead Harvard researcher that found that at least 6.5 million Americans across 33 states were receiving water that exceeded federally recommended levels of PFAS chemicals.

The EPA has established a Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) of 70 parts-per-trillion for PFAS. That’s a number that may not make a lot of sense to the average person, but what’s important to note is that LHA’s are NOT drinking water standards.

According to the EPA, “Unlike drinking water standards, health advisories are not regulations, are not legally enforceable, and are subject to change as new information becomes available. However, they reflect our assessment of the current peer-reviewed science on the health effects for particular contaminants, and they provide important uniform technical guidance to state, local and tribal governments and drinking water system operators so that they can determine if concentrations of chemicals in tap water from public utilities are safe for drinking and other use.”

Basically, even if a water supply has some level of PFAS (even levels that exceed federally recommended levels), there are no laws that require water supplies to address the issue. As a result, the best way to ensure your drinking water is safe is by utilizing a water filter that removes harmful PFAS chemicals.

does this mean all water is contaminated?

Even if only 6.5 million Americans receive water with levels of PFAS that exceed federal recommendations, a 2018 report from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that up to 110 million Americans could have some level of PFAS in their drinking water. The five states with the highest frequency of detection were California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. Contamination is highest in the mid-Ohio River Valley.

Top 5 states with PFOAs.

Click here to see the EPA Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS.

whole house pfas, pfoa, and pfas water filter

Not all water filters will remove PFAS including PFOA and PFOS chemicals, so make sure to do research before buying and check for certifications. We recommend the OptimH2O® Whole House Filter a first-of-its-kind system that is IAPMO tested and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 53 to reduce perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), as well as soluble and particulate forms of lead and cysts. Additionally, it also reduces 90% of chlorine and chloramines, along with additional contaminants.

remove pfas chemicals from drinking water

You use your tap water for everything from cooking food, washing clothes, and staying hydrated – so make sure the water you use is healthy and free of harmful contaminants.

Aquasana’s drinking water filters, both countertop, and under sink were the first filtration systems to earn certification for the protocol developed by NSF International. The protocol tests and certifies a water treatment device’s ability to reduce PFOA and PFOS chemicals to below the health advisory levels set by the EPA.

Former CEO of Aquasana, Todd Bartee, is an environmental engineer with expertise in water and waste-water treatment. Here’s what he had to say when Aquasana became the first company with water filtration products certified to reduce these chemicals:

“The mission should be to deliver the healthiest water possible, and that means working with NSF International to stay ahead of the increasing types of contaminants affecting our nation’s water supply,” says Bartee. “Aquasana is leading the charge as the first to offer a premium product that is NSF certified to protect against PFOA contamination.”

“Our new protocol… will help consumers choose a water treatment device that fits their needs and be confident it can reduce these specific contaminants as the manufacturer claims,” added Tina Yerkes, general manager of filtration programs at NSF International.

Check out our wide selection of water filters to reduce the presence of PFAS including PFOA and PFOS in your tap water.