Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of thousands of manmade fluorinated chemicals since the 1940s. Due to their chemistry, PFAS tend to be heat resistant, water resistance, and oil resistant and has led to their use in a variety of both industrial and residential applications. PFAS have been widely used at airports as a firefighting foam, at manufacturing facilities for products and processes, and as part of consumer products (e.g, nonstick pans, to-go food containers, stain resistant coating). As of result of their widespread use, they are present in environmental media at trace levels across the globe.

People can come into contact with PFAS through the use of certain consumer products that contain PFAS. Where PFAS-containing firefighting foams and other industrial sources to the environment, groundwater and surface water may be contaminated leading to potential exposures through contaminated drinking water and/or recreational exposures. People are also exposed to PFAS through household dust, food impacted by PFAS contaminated (e.g. seafood, milk and dairy products, etc), use of products made with PFAS, and working in occupations at facilities that use PFAS materials.

Our understanding on the impacts of PFAS in drinking water is limited to a few specific chemicals at present. The most studied PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency current identifies PFOA as “likely to be a carcinogen” based on findings from rodents. Additional research on PFOA, PFOS, and a handful of other chemicals suggests that non-cancer health effects from both PFOA and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) include liver effects, immunological effects, decreased birth weights, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, and cardiovascular disease.

In 2016, EPA concluded that at a combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) over a lifetime exposure (70 years) negative effects may occur. This spring, EPA is anticipated to revise this level and publish a similar level for two other compounds: hexafluoropropylene dimer acid (GenX) and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).

Various PFAS have been detected in drinking water across the United States. Drinking water monitoring for 6 PFAS was required from 2013 to 2015 for many systems. As a result of this testing, many states required monitoring for upwards of 18 PFAS in drinking water. While monitoring has not yet taken place, the EPA is preparing to conduct another round of monitoring requirements for water systems beginning in 2023 which will cover 29 PFAS.

Contact your public water system to learn more about PFAS testing and results in your drinking water. If your water system has participated in these monitoring programs, this information will be available.

EPA is currently committed to developing a drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS, since these are the two most researched PFAS. Before regulating a contaminant, EPA considers projected adverse health effects from the contaminant, the extent of occurrence of the contaminant in drinking water, and whether regulation of the contaminant would present a meaningful opportunity for reducing risks to health. Regulation of additional PFAS will depend on the findings of the ongoing health effects research and drinking water monitoring, which is expected to begin in 2023.

If you get your drinking water from a private well, you should have your water tested by a certified laboratory at least once a year. You can find information on how to sample for PFAS and where to send samples for analysis by contacting your state water laboratory certification officer. Contact information for your state can be found at EPA’s drinking water lab certification page. Additional information about well water testing from EPA is available on their private drinking water well FAQ page.
If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, you may consider purchasing a home treatment device. However, in order to make a well-informed and cost-effective decision, consider:
  • Checking with you water system or consumer confidence report to learn more about the amount of PFAS in your water.
  • Identifying a device that has been independently certified to remove PFAS.
  • NSF International, the Water Quality Association, Underwriters Laboratories and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. The relevant PFAS removal standard is NSF/ANSI Standards 53 and 58. If you choose to use a home treatment device, it is very important to follow the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance instructions carefully in order to make sure the device works properly.

Bottled water quality can vary. Bottled water in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is required to meet standards equal to the EPA’s tap water standards. There are also individual state standards. However, in most cases, you must contact the bottled water manufacturer for information about dioxane levels.