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PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that include GenX, PFOS, and PFOA. PFAS chemicals made their first appearance in the 1940s and have been used in the manufacturing of many industries ever since. Out of all PFAS, PFOA and PFOS have been the two most extensively studied. This is because PFOA and PFOS are very persistent in both the environment and the human body - they don't break down and tend to accumulate over time. It's because PFAS chemicals do not break down over time that a recent study suggests that as many as 200 million Americans have drinking water that has exposed them to PFAS.
David Q. Andrews states - "Here, we analyze publicly accessible data sets of PFAS occurrence in drinking water in the United States. Testing with detection limits below 1 ng/L revealed that mixtures of PFAS are nearly ubiquitous in surface water, the predominate source of drinking water for the U.S. population. We estimate that 18–80 million people in the U.S. receive tap water with 10 ng/L or greater concentration of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) combined, and over 200 million people likely receive water with a PFOA and PFOS concentration at or above 1 ng/L. Multiple U.S. states including California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont have either set or proposed limits for PFOA and PFOS that are significantly lower than the nonregulatory U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established lifetime drinking water health advisory level of 70 ng/L for the combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS." - Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2020, 7, 12, 931–936
What Do PFAS Do To Your Body
There is a growing body of research concluding that exposure to PFAS can lead to negative health effects. When a person ingests PFAS either by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by PFAS, the PFAS are absorbed and begin to accumulate in the body. PFAS stay in the human body for long periods of time. As a result, as people get exposed to PFAS from different sources over time, the level of PFAS in their bodies may increase to the point where they suffer from adverse health effects.
Recent studies have indicated PFOA and PFOS have a reproductive, developmental, and immunological effect on humans and in animal studies. They also can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as promote the growth of tumors, both malignant and benign.
Health Advisory From The Environmental Protection Agency
"EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) health advisories are based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory animals (rats and mice) and were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes). "
Does Bottled Water Contain PFAS?
Yes - a recentstudy by consumer reports shows that almost all bottled water they tested contained detectable amounts of PFAS, however, most didn't exceed 1 part per trillion. It seems that the treatment most companies use for carbonated water does not filter out PFAS below 1 ppt.
Do Water Filters Remove PFAS?
Yes - Water filters have been shown to significantly reduce or completely eliminate PFAS from the drinking water supply. The largest body of research into this was conducted via a joint research effort between scientists at Duke University and North Carolina State University. We will discuss the types of filter and their effectiveness below:
Point of use filters
Aside from under-sink RO systems, most point-of-use filters saw little to no reduction in PFAS. Stapleton Lab at Duke University stated - "The effectiveness of activated-carbon filters used in many pitcher, countertop, refrigerator, and faucet-mounted styles was inconsistent and unpredictable." If you are looking for a point-of-use filter for PFAS removal stick to an under-sink reverse osmosis system for consistency and peace of mind.
While an under-sink reverse osmosis system will provide you with PFAS free water at a single point of use in your home, a whole house reverse osmosis system will provide you with PFAS free water throughout your entire house. Are there factors to consider when looking at a whole house reverse osmosis system? Yes- mainly cost. Whole house reverse osmosis systems are on the higher end of the scale when it comes to water treatment solutions. So it may be the best way to remove PFAS, but it may not fit everyone's budget. That's ok because we still have another system to talk about.
Whole House Filtration (Non-Reverse Osmosis Systems)
There are some inconsistencies with whole house filters on the market, Stapleton Lab at Duke University stated "The whole-house systems were also widely variable and in some cases actually increased PFAS levels in the water.”
So how do you avoid this?
When shopping for a whole house filter that reduces or removes PFAS, you want to ensure that it focuses on PFOS & PFOA. Start by ensuring the product has been certified with NSF/ANSI 53 - this makes sure the product falls in line with NSF P473 : Drinking Water Treatment Units.
In accordance with these standards, NSF International verifies that:
The contaminant reduction claims for PFOA and PFOS shown on the label are true.
The system does not add anything harmful to the water.
The system is structurally sound.
The product labeling, advertising, and literature are not misleading
NSF certified products must be retested periodically and manufacturing facilities must be inspected every year, which ensures products continue to meet all requirements.
PFAS are real and more widespread than what was previously thought. They are having a lasting impact on both the environment and human health. So should we start panicking? No - thankfully there are different treatment options at affordable price points to act as stopgaps until we can control PFAS contaminates at the source.
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