How to Remove PFAS from Water

Posted by
John Woodard on April 15, 2024

PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of man-made chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s. From clothing and furniture to food packaging and electronics, countless industries have employed these versatile chemicals for their repellant properties. However, when a link between PFAS and adverse health effects came to light in the early 2000s, select PFAS were phased out of production in the United States. Despite these efforts, they have become rampant in the environment and water supply, because of continued use in overseas manufacturing, imported products, and a strong chemical bond that resists degradation. In fact, a recent study by the Environmental Working Group, estimates more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water. Below you will learn about PFAS, how to find out if your water is contaminated, and how to rid your water supply of these worrisome contaminants.

What are PFAS?

PFAS are a class of man-made chemicals created by the union of carbon and fluorine, which form one of the strongest bonds in nature. Consequently, PFAS don’t break down, are stable in water, and remain in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), it can take up to four years for levels of PFAS in the human body to reduce by half.

PFAS were introduced in the 1940s as repellants of water, oil, grease, stains, and even fire. They have been used in a wide variety of products and industries, such as non-stick cookware, water-resistant clothing, stain-proof fabrics, and fire-fighting foam. There are nearly 5,000 different types of PFAS, but perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are the most common and widely studied. U.S. manufacturers stopped producing PFOA and PFOS in the early 2000s, but due to their long half-lives and use overseas, PFAS are still ample in our environment.

What products are PFAS found in?

From pizza boxes to furniture, PFAS are found in countless household items because of their versatile repellant properties.  Below are common products that contain PFAS.

    • Pizza boxes
    • Microwave popcorn bags
    • Non-stick cookware
    • Water-resistant clothing
    • Stain-resistant carpets and furniture
    • Cleaning products
    • Paint, polish, and wax
    • Fire-fighting foam


Fire Fighting Foam

How do PFAS get into drinking water?

PFAS get into drinking water when they percolate from soil to groundwater or surface water. PFAS are water soluble and are commonly found in water near facilities that manufacture or used to manufacture PFAS and products that contain PFAS. Also, many contaminated areas are near facilities that use PFAS fire-fighting foam for training, such as military bases, airports, and fire-fighting training centers. Lastly, PFAS can get into water when products that contain PFAS are tossed into landfills. As the products break down, PFAS linger in the soil and seep into nearby water sources.

Learn More: What is groundwater contamination and how do you treat it?

What level of PFAS is safe in drinking water?

As of April 2024, the EPA has established the first ever federal legally enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS contamination levels. These new standards limit two types of PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to 4 parts per trillion. Previously, the EPA established a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined. While not enforceable, the health advisory was meant to educate public health officials and state agencies and to provide people with a margin of protection from exposure to PFAS through drinking water. After further research was conducted, the EPA concluded that no amount of these chemicals in water is safe. Water treatment plants have been given three years to conduct testing for PFAS chemicals and an additional two years to install the appropriate treatment systems if the levels of these chemicals exceed the limit. 

What are the health effects of PFAS?

The health effects of PFAS include reproductive, developmental, and immunological problems, but symptoms may vary. Since PFAS don’t easily break down and can accumulate in the human body overtime, the more exposure a person has, the greater the chance of negative health effects. The EPA has cited evidence linking PFAS exposure to the following:

    • Increased cholesterol levels
    • Suppressed immune system
    • Thyroid hormone disruption
    • Liver and kidney damage
    • Low infant birth weight
    • Cancer

How do you know if your water is contaminated?

You can request a municipal water quality report to find out if your water is contaminated, or you can have the water tested by a certified laboratory. Municipal water providers test the water supply frequently, and if you ask for the results, they are required by law to give them to you. If you desire further peace of mind or use a well, you can enlist a state certified laboratory to conduct a test. If you are on well water, the safety of the water supply is your responsibility, and it is highly recommended to test your water frequently. PFAS are odorless and tasteless, so testing is the only way to accurately detect them in water.

Learn more: Types of drinking water contaminants and how to remove them | Lab water tests vs at-home test kits

How to remove PFAS from water

PFAS can be removed from water through reverse osmosis, activated carbon filtration, and ion exchange. 

Reverse osmosis:

reverse osmosis (RO) system uses pressure to push unfiltered water through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane has small pores that block contaminants, such as PFAS, but allow clean water to flow through to the other side. Reverse osmosis is one of the most comprehensive water treatment methods to remove contaminants.

Learn More: What is a reverse osmosis system and how does It work? | 5 of the best reverse osmosis systems 

Activated carbon filtration:

Carbon filters contain activated carbon that has an abundance of pores along its surface and infrastructure. When water runs through the activated carbon, PFAS and other contaminants are captured or altered by a process called adsorption, and clean water emerges on the other side.

Learn more: Activated carbon filters 101 

Ion exchange:

Ion exchange water treatment involves a chemical process in which undesirable dissolved ions, such as PFAS, nitrate, and sulfate, are exchanged for other ions with a similar charge. Ions are atoms or molecules with either a positive or negative electrical charge. Ion exchange water treatment systems contain an anion resin that captures negatively charge ions (e.g., PFAS) and a cation resin that captures positively charged ions (e.g., hardness causing calcium and magnesium).

Learn more: What is deionized water?

Does boiling water remove PFAS?

No, boiling water does not remove PFAS. In fact, heat does not break down PFAS, and instead concentrates the chemicals and renders them more dangerous if ingested.  

Are PFAS in bottled water?

Yes, PFAS have been found in bottled water and canned carbonated water. A recent study by Consumer Reports tested 47 brands of bottled and canned water and found that most had detectable levels of PFAS, but only nine brands had levels over 1 part per trillion (PPT). Of the nine brands with levels over 1 PPT, two produce still water and seven produce carbonated water.

What is being done about PFAS in the water supply?

In April 2024, the EPA took action to regulate the levels of PFAS in municipal drinking water. A handful of states, including California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Vermont, had already adopted or proposed limits for PFAS in drinking water. However, the new regulations apply on a federal level, limiting the exposure to PFAS for an estimated 100 million people.


If you have any further questions about PFAS or the safety of your water supply, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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