PFAS is back in the news again! If you have not immersed yourself in the whole PFOA / PFAS in drinking water topic, now is a great time to dive in. The Boston Globe reported on Sunday May 23 that more towns have tested above the new state legal limit for PFAS6. This blog sets out to address questions about PFAS, who should be concerned and why.
PFAS in Drinking Water: Everything you need to know.
What is PFAS? PFAS is short for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. PFAS and its cousin PFOA are highly toxic man-made ‘forever’ chemicals. ‘Forever’, because they do not break down in the environment. PFAS and PFOA are used in manufacturing common consumer products like furniture, carpet, packaging and most famously, Teflon and firefighting foam.
Why is this important? Although most PFAS and PFOA have stopped being produced, the toxic chemicals are still in the environment and have been seeping into the ground and aquafers for decades. We have been exposed to PSAF in varying degrees for years through ingestion of food, water, and manufactured products. Studies indicate that exposure to PFAS increases the risk of cancer, harms the development of the fetus and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. Biomonitoring studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the blood of nearly all Americans is contaminated with PFAS.”
Is it regulated? Because drinking water is a major source of PFAS ingestion, steps are being taken to tighten regulations on PFAS (I will refer to all forms of PFAS/ PFOA, etc as simply PFAS in this article) in drinking water. Currently, municipalities must ensure that PFAS levels do not exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
One reason PFAS is in the news again is because the Massachusetts DEP published a new set of drinking water quality standards for PFAS-6 (the 6 most concerning variations) last October, and the results are now being published. The new maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 20 ppt (parts per trillion) is more stringent than the current Federal EPA MCL of 70 ppt.
In Massachusetts, cities and towns with water districts greater than 10,000 customers must begin testing and reporting for PFAS6. The testing has exposed over 65 water distribution locations in Massachusetts including Wellesley, Natick, Burlington, Wayland and even at the Old Newbury Golf Club in Newbury.
How do I know if there is PFAS in our water? The state maintains a database of all water test results for PFAS (and dozens of other toxins in our water), that is available to the public. Blue Ribbon Water monitors this database regularly for changes in contaminants. The database is easy to use, and you can download parameters to a spreadsheet. But you can find a consolidated report of all Massachusetts cities and towns on Blue Ribbon Water’s website.
Check your town: www.blueribbonwater.com/
Will water filters take out PFAS?
Yes, there are water filters on the market that reduce PFAS from drinking water. Some (very few) have gone through the stringent process of being certified by the NSF to meet NSF/ANSI 53: Drinking Water Treatment Units – Health Effects or NSF/ANSI 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems testing standards.
Certification is a lengthy, expensive process that only a handful of manufacturers have pursued. As demand grows however, more and more filters manufacturers will apply for certification. There are some types of filters you can count on, regardless of ‘certification’. NSF/ANSI 53 only certifies a products reduction capability to below the EPA standard of 70ppt. So, there is currently no certification to the new Massachusetts standard of 20ppt.
What to consider:
There are several filter types that DO reduce PFAS very effectively, even if they are not NSF/ANSI 53 certified.
Reverse Osmosis is a very effective type of filter in eliminating almost everything from drinking water (including the good minerals we want). But in areas with extremely high levels of PFAS it is an effective solution.
Whole-house filters. If you are considering a whole-house filter, finding one that is currently NSF/ANSI 53 certified is the best start. There are several that are certified, but most with high quality activated carbon should work well. The trick with whole-house filters is the ‘contact time’ of the water with the carbon. The longer the ‘contact time’ the better, so carbon block filters with extremely tiny pores will have the greatest surface area and longer ‘contact time’. We recommend ½ micron extruded carbon block filters.
Under sink: Very few have been NSF/ANSI 53 certified, but many are extremely effective. Under sink filters with ½ micron carbon block filtration will have long ‘contact time’ and will be your best bet.
Countertop filters like Brita. These small filters will not address PFAS effectively.
PFAS is an emerging threat to our drinking water. The EPA is so far behind in updating regulations, leaving it to the states to mandate safe levels. The differences from state to state, and the state to the federal government will be with us for some time. As long as there is not one single standard, manufacturers and organizations like the NSF have nothing to go on when certifying products for the public for every state regulation. As a consumer, the best thing to do is ‘something’. If you have concerns about PFAS or other contaminants, and want to do something about it, write your representatives, and purchase the best water purification product you can justify. Doing ‘nothing’ just doesn’t seem the right option.
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