“Nearly half of the tap water in the United States is contaminated by PFAS chemicals, or per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a recent report alarmed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an effort to restrict the group of chemicals, also dubbed ‘forever chemicals,’ in food and drinking water to improve public health which could help, but the agency hasn’t yet finalized a rule.
In the meantime, Americans can keep themselves safe from the chemicals when grabbing a glass of water from the kitchen sink, in part, by using water filtration systems, one environmental group suggests.
Consumer-available water filtration systems that everyday people can use to rid PFAS from tap water are the center of a new study from the nonprofit activist group Environmental Working Group. Scientists from the group researched the effectiveness of several filtration systems available to consumers across the U.S., and determined that they can serve as a ‘Band-Aid’ to the problem until a longer-term solution comes to form, said Sydney Evans, a senior science analyst at the Environmental Working Group who has led many types of PFAS testing nationwide.
‘The end goal is people wouldn’t have to buy a water filter… but that’s just not the reality,’ Evans said.
What does the research show?
The group estimated there are ‘hundreds of brands and models of home water filters’ that usually come in six forms: ‘pitcher or large dispenser, faucet-mounted, faucet-integrated, on-counter, under-sink or whole-house.’
Scientists tested 10 different water filtration systems for specific types of PFAS, notably the most common types: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The group tested for 25 different types of PFAS using one water sample for each filter, a summary of the research reads.
Most of the water filters the Environmental Working Group researched contain a medium typically made out of granular activated carbon to remove almost all of the PFAS, said Evans.
‘To calculate the percentage PFAS reduction achieved by each filter, we contrasted the sum of the total PFAS found in the tap water sample with the PFAS detected in the filtered water,’ the summary reads.
Evans said she was surprised by how well some of the filters worked adequately removed PFA levels almost as well as through reverse osmosis. And while there’s no guarantee they rid of all chemicals, ‘some kind of reduction is better than nothing,’ she said.
The systems come with varying price tags. The group is advocating for legislation that restricts and regulates PFA levels from a federal and local level in part so consumers don’t have to pay out of pocket to drink safe water.
How effective are water filters?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website cautions Americans that ‘no filter eliminates all contaminants’ even though water filters can help rid of forever chemicals. The agency says water consumers should not ‘assume that if the filter removes one contaminant, it also removes others.’
‘Filtration of contaminants depends highly on the amount of contaminant, size of the contaminant particle, and the charge of the contaminant particle,’ its website reads.
‘Depending on the household’s water needs, pretreatment before filtration may include the addition of coagulants and powdered activated carbon, adjustments in pH or chlorine concentration levels, and other pretreatment processes in order to protect the filter’s membrane surface,’ it continues.
What are the health risks of drinking water contaminated by PFAS?
Americans who drink water from the faucet contaminated by the chemicals are exposed to various health risks attributed to PFAS, including illnesses like cancer, low birth weight, and thyroid disease.
Location matters when it comes to risk level. A national study from the U.S. Geological Survey released last week shows that people living in urban areas are most at risk of having PFAS in their tap water while those living in some rural regions have a lower chance of consuming those chemicals.
According to a March 2022 survey of 2,246 American adults conducted by Aquasana showed that more than three-fourths of Americans are already filtering their water. The percentage of users grew between three percentage points between 2020 and 2022.
Those surveyed said they were most concerned about lead, chlorine, and chloramines and fearful of bacteria, cysts, and viruses. More than half agreed ‘they are more concerned about their health because of the pandemic, and 40% said they are ‘now more concerned about the quality of the unfiltered water in their homes because of COVID-19.’
‘There is still a lot of work to be done’
Experts are adamant that regulation is the key to keeping people safe from long-term exposure to PFAS.
The Biden administration through the EPA proposed a regulation in March that if finalized, ‘would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture,’ a news release about the proposal reads.
‘Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution,’ wrote Michael Regan, an administrator for the EPA, at the time the proposal was announced.
Justin Colacino, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, said if the new regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency become reality, it would be ‘a major public health victory toward reducing exposure to these toxic and persistent chemicals.’
He added: ‘There is still a lot of work to be done, though. With thousands of different PFAS chemicals on the market, we’ll continue to need innovative new strategies to regulate how these chemicals are used in our products to protect the health of people and the environment.’
Critics have argued it could cost the nation billions to make that a reality.” …