PFAS (per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are often called “forever chemicals.“They combine with their chemical properties and dissolve in water to make them highly toxic. In a study, around 100 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water. Isn’t it too hazardous if you drink such kind of water?
Once they enter the human body, they don’t leave until they destroy the internal system. Therefore, it is very crucial to achieve safe levels of PFAs in drinking water. Thankfully, reverse osmosis, granular activated carbon, and ion exchange mechanisms can remove PFAs up to 95%.
In this blog, you will learn what PFAs are and how to remove PFAS from water. For healthy drinking, stay reading the entire article!
Understanding the PFAS Contamination?
PFAs are human-made, containing carbon-fluoride bonds, with more than 4000 types of chemicals that have been popularly used since the 1940s.
The exposure of elevated levels of PFAS contamination can lead to adverse health risks. In 2016, the EPA guidelines were set for 70 parts per trillion in drinking water. Even the EPA is still researching to understand their effects, detection, and exposure. For now, in 2022, it has changed to a new limit, which is given below. Essentially, the EPA wants the limits to be zero. Still, it seems possible due to their nature and exposure.
Once they are added to the environment, Instead of degrading easily, they accumulate over time and are hard to eliminate. That’s why they are also called “Forever Chemicals”. So, they are considered a distinct water-quality issue due to their tenacity in the environment and widespread occurrence across the country.
A study in 2022 showed that children with higher PFAS exposure had a poorer response to routine childhood vaccinations against diphtheria and tetanus. In another case, children who had high levels of PFAS in the body were revealed with a 50% loss of the antibodies.
Additionally, other health effects such as kidney and testicular cancer, weakened immunity, endocrine disruption, fertility problems, and decreased birth weight were also found.
PFAs are a group of synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications and are exposed through various resources such as
- Manufacturing Factories of Cosmetics Products
- Photography Products
- Linings of Fast-Food Boxes
- Waterproof Clothing
- Expose through Military Bases and Airports that Use Firefighting Foams
Products With Traces Of PFAs
- Climbing Ropes
- Guitar Strings
- Artificial Turf
- Soil Remediation
- Cleaning Products
- Paint, Polish, and Wax
Most Common Types of PFAs
Most commonly, they are found in two forms:
- Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA): it is a highly carcinogen that can accumulate in the human body over time. The safe level for PFOA is 0.04 ppt. It can be removed by using activated carbon adsorption, ion exchange, and advanced oxidation processes.
- Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS): Similar to PFOA, PFOS can cause adverse health effects, including developmental issues and liver damage. The safe level for PFOS is 0.02 ppt. It is typically more challenging to remove due to its strong chemical properties.
How to Test PFAs In Water?
If you are concerned, can PFAs be removed from the water? You should first test the level of PFAS. Then, decide which option is best for you.
You can test your water by state laboratory, which is costly, but nothing is more precious than your health. Home kits are also available for testing, but I will not recommend them.
Can PFAs be Removed From the Water?
Yes, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can be removed from water, but their removal can be challenging due to their unique chemical properties. They are a group of man-made chemicals known for their persistence in the environment, resistance to heat and water, and ability to accumulate in living organisms.
Common techniques include activated carbon adsorption, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis can effectively remove PFAs. However, the effectiveness of removal depends on factors such as the specific PFAS compounds present and their concentrations.
How to Remove PFAs From Water?
Whatever you choose among the water filters, it is important to look for their certification, which should be NSF 53, 58, or 473 certifications (specialized in removing PFAs).
According to Carel Vandermeyden, director of engineering at Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, “no technology can remove 100% of the PFAS. However, some technologies are very effective in removing PFAS from drinking water mentioned below.
1. Reverse Osmosis
Reverse osmosis (RO) water filter is very effective against PFAS. It can remove more than 90% PFAS, including its long-chain and short-chain type (PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX), hardness, salts, pesticides, and many more. It uses energy and high pressure to push water through a semipermeable membrane with tiny pores of 0.0005 microns.
It is important to use relevant pre-treatments, such as sediment filters, to protect the RO membrane from frequent cleaning. Plus, RO water filters also come with additional post-treatments, e.g., re-mineralization and pH correction, which improve the water quality. You can install these systems in the whole house, on the counter, or under the sink. Check out our list of undersink water filters that remove PFAs very effectively.
In comparison to granular activated carbon and ion exchange resins, the Reverse Osmosis system is more efficient. It is based on physical rejection and does not require a high surface area for a high PFAS load. Although it may be higher in cost, it would be a good decision for high-concentrated PFAS waters such as military locations or industries.
2. Granular Activated Carbon
Activated carbon treatment is another ideal treatment for the removal of PFAS. Activated carbon is adsorbent and highly porous, which has a large surface area to absorb chlorine, arsenic, lead, PFAS, and other organic contaminants. It is one of the best and first methods to remove PFAS from drinking water in the U.S.
According to the EPA, granular activated carbon can remove 100% PFAS depending upon various factors, such as water temperature and flow rate, the depth of the carbon bed, and the types of PFAS. For example, GAC can absorb longer-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS very well, but shorter-chain PFAS like Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) and Perfluorobutyrate (PFBA) are not absorbed.
GAC is also available in the form of water filters, including GAC filters, also used as post filters with reverse osmosis, which makes it an ideal choice for the removal of PFAs. One of their incredible advantages is that they are also available in water filter pitchers, such as zero filter pitchers, countertops, and undersink.
3. Ion Exchange System
The ion exchange system has one anion resin and one cation resin. Anion exchange treatment using ion exchange resins is a practical method of removing PFAS from water. These resins, made of porous, polymeric material that attracts and holds contaminated materials, are cationic and anionic.
Anionic exchange resins are particularly effective in removing negatively charged contaminants such as PFAS. This technology removes all PFAS for a specific period based on factors such as the choice of resin, bed depth, and flow rate. Although more expensive than GAC, AER eliminates the need for resin regeneration and does not create a contaminant waste stream.
It can remove almost all the contaminants in water. Luckily, it can also reduce PFAS in drinking water. This process works by heating water until it vaporizes, leaving behind contaminants such as PFAS. The vapor is then condensed into liquid form, resulting in purified water.
Distillation can be an effective method for removing some per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water. Still, its effectiveness depends on the specific types of PFAS and their characteristics, such as PFAs with high boiling points and high-temperature requirements, are easier to remove.
In practice, PFAS-contaminated water may require multiple treatment steps, such as pre-treatment to remove solids and organics before distillation. Additionally, a combination of treatment methods, such as activated carbon adsorption or ion exchange, may be needed to ensure effective PFAS removal.
While effective, distillation is an energy-intensive process and may not be practical for large-scale treatment.
In conclusion, removing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water at home is a complex and challenging task. Boiling, like typical methods, can’t remove them. In contrast, some methods can be employed at home, such as activated carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, etc.
We suggest reverse osmosis as the most effective method; however, you can also choose activated carbon filters because the GAC filter is cost-effective. For a comprehensive and safe approach to removing PFAS from home water sources, it is highly recommended to test your water before treatment.
Furthermore, staying informed about the latest developments in PFAS research and regulations is essential to make informed decisions and ensure the safety of your drinking water.