Read the full article by Adele Peters (Fast Company)
“There’s a good chance that ‘forever chemicals’—the toxic compounds known as PFAS—are in your drinking water. A recent government study suggests that nearly half of the tap water in the U.S. is contaminated. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has separately mapped out 2,858 polluted communities, has estimated that more than 200 million Americans may be exposed.
But water filters can help. In a new report, EWG tested how much difference some of the most popular filters make. The good news: Three brands removed the chemicals completely in the tests, followed by another that reduced PFAS by 98%. That’s important because the compounds have been linked to cancer, birth defects, high cholesterol, and other health problems. (While this wasn’t an academic study, the group says it shows a ‘snapshot’ of effectiveness.)
The top performers include the Zero Filter ($20), though the testers noted that the filters have to be frequently replaced; the Travel Berkey, a pricey gravity-fed device ($344) with filters that the manufacturers say can last as long as eight years; and Clearly Filtered ($90, with around seven filters required a year). The $70 Epic Pure Filter, with a 98% removal rate, performed nearly as well.
An earlier study found that reverse osmosis filters worked well, but they’re typically more expensive and because they’re installed into plumbing, they’re not accessible for renters. ‘Less is known about the countertop filters, and they’re so frequently and commonly used that we wanted to find out how effective they were,’ says Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at EWG.
In the group’s tests, some other common filters didn’t do nearly as well— Brita’s six-cup pitcher filter, for example, only reduced PFAS by 66%. One expensive filter, an $80 model from Seychelle, only had a 48% reduction.
The tests were limited—the nonprofit only ran lab tests on one sample for each filter, and this wasn’t a peer-reviewed academic study. The efficacy also depends on use—if filters aren’t changed frequently enough, they can actually make water more contaminated as PFAS seep back into it from the saturated filter. But the group says there’s enough evidence to recommend that people use water filters if they can afford them.
Filters obviously aren’t a complete solution. The EPA is currently working on new regulations for PFAS in drinking water, after putting out health advisories for two common versions of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, in 2022. City water systems can test and treat water before it reaches homes. Multiple new technologies are making it easier for water treatment plants to destroy the chemicals. But the even bigger challenge is how to stop the pollution in the first place.
There are thousands of types of PFAS used in a variety of products, including nonstick pans, food packaging, makeup, and the stain-resistant coating on your carpet or sofa (which may not actually help keep your furniture clean). As the items are made and used, the chemicals can seep into the air, water, and soil. It’s worth questioning whether they’re necessary to use at all.
‘The less we use it in products, the less that it gets back into the environment,’ says Stoiber.”