What is PFAS in water?
PFAS, aka perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of over 4,000 different chemicals which many industries manufacture or use for diverse purposes. PFAS chemicals are formed by the combination of carbon and fluorine, generating one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. Because of this strong bond, PFAS has found use in the manufacture of everyday items that are resistant to oil, heat, stains, and moisture. Other PFAS sources include carpets, food wrappers, tap water, and fire-suppressing foams used by firefighters.
Of this PFAS chemical group, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) remains widely produced and studied. Both chemicals accumulate in the environment and even in living organisms because they don’t break down quickly. For this reason, they have conveniently dubbed them “forever chemicals.”
Major Sources of PFAS
Although PFAS compounds remain persistent in the environment, they are water-soluble. Therefore, higher levels of PFAS are usually present in water supplies near facilities that manufacture, dispose, or use PFAS than in their environment. PFAS in water remains the most common way of human exposure to PFAS. People become exposed to PFAS through public water systems and drinking wells situated near industrial areas that manufacture, use, or dispose of PFAS.
Other sources of PFAS include surface water or groundwater that receive seepage or run-off, particularly from places that have a history of, or persistently high use of firefighting foam. Food packaged with PFAS containing materials, fish, and other foods from contaminated bodies of water, and stain-resistant products treated with PFAS remains common sources of PFAS.
Women with PFAS in their blood can also expose their unborn babies to PFAS through the umbilical cord during pregnancy. Mothers may expose newborns to PFAS through breast milk or formula made with PFAS-contaminated water. Young children that spend time lying and crawling on the carpet could be exposed to PFAS present in cleaning products and carpet. Can these chemicals be potential causes of harm to human health?
Possible Health Concerns With PFAS
What does PFAS do to your body? The blood of people with prior exposure to PFAS through food, water, equipment, or from the environment usually has measurable amounts of PFAS. When PFAS is ingested via food, drinking water, or other sources, it is absorbed and accumulates in the body. It can also be found in the urine, breast milk, and blood from the umbilical cord, although at significantly lower levels. The amount, concentration, and length of exposure to PFAS determine if one would manifest the adverse health effects.
PFAS health effects stem mainly from long chains PFAS compounds like PFOA and PFOS. These compounds may cause developmental defects in infants, decrease infant birth weights, lower women’s fertility, increase blood pressure during pregnancy, cause hormonal imbalances, cause a spike in cholesterol levels, lower body immunity, and increase cancer risk. The health effects of PFAS on animals are identical to its effect on humans.
Therefore, don’t allow your pets or livestock to drink water that contains high levels of PFAS. Check the quality of your water treatment provider, or your local water source. And find out what water filtration method is being used to ensure proper PFAS removal.
Exposure Limits For PFAS In Drinking Water
There is no generally agreed exposure limit for PFAS in drinking water. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the limit to 70 ppt, several states have since calculated lower limits. What is clear, however, is that sources of PFAS contamination should be avoided as much as possible. Only use water from a safe source for drinking, preparing food, or other activities where one may inadvertently swallow some water, e.g., brushing of teeth, gaggling, etc.
How to Avoid PFAS In Drinking Water
It is not safe to boil water containing PFAS because boiling will only concentrate these chemicals in the water. Only drink bottled water, or licensed drinking water that has been treated against these chemicals. The average household water filter cannot remove PFAS in drinking water. Although specifically activated carbon can be used to remove PFAS from water, the gold standard for in-house filtration and removal of PFAs remains Reverse Osmosis.
As a safety precaution, having your tap water tested can be a good idea. This will determine exactly what contaminants are found in your water and ways to remove them.
How Can Reverse Osmosis Remove PFAS?
Reverse Osmosis is effective at removing PFAS from water by passing contaminated water under high applied pressure through a reverse osmosis membrane. The reverse osmosis membrane is a semi-permeable membrane that is tighter than nanofiltration membranes and therefore removes particles and minerals which a nano filter may allow to pass. The reverse osmosis membrane, therefore, makes for an excellent PFAS water filter. Installing a reverse osmosis system under your sink will allow for unlimited access to safe drinking water!