Discover the Truth About Your Water. Get Your Instant Local Water Quality Report

Water Filters Remove Forever Chemicals

May 2024

Do Water Filters Remove Forever Chemicals? PFAS Explained

Key Takeaways


  • Forever chemicals include PFOA, PFOS, and other related chemicals used in manufacturing since the 1940s.
  • Although some forms of PFAS have been phased out, they’re still found in many consumer products and detected in local drinking water systems.
  • Long-term exposure may increase the risk of cancer and other health problems.
  • Some home water filters, including reverse osmosis filters, are very effective at removing forever chemicals from drinking water.

We all know the health risks of putting toxic chemicals into our body. From a young age, we’re taught to be careful with household chemicals and to call a poison control center if we accidentally ingest them. But what about chemicals that even scientists don’t know much about and lack strong regulation from the government? How can we keep ourselves safe from forever chemicals like PFAS?

Over the past few decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been learning more about the health impacts of forever chemicals. Although there’s a lot we still don’t know, it’s important to stay informed and take steps to protect ourselves with the information that’s out there.

Here’s what you need to know about forever chemicals in our food, drinking water, and other everyday products and how to minimize your exposure.

What Are Forever Chemicals?

The term “forever chemicals” refers to a group of industrial chemicals collectively known as PFAS — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. According to the EPA, there are thousands of different kinds of PFAS chemicals, some of which include:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
  • Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS)
  • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)

These chemicals have been used in manufacturing since the 1940s. Growing awareness of the health risks of PFAS means some forms have been phased out, but Americans continue to be exposed to PFAS through tap water and other sources.

Why Are PFAS Called Forever Chemicals?

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in the human body and in the environment. According to ChemTrust, some forms of PFAS have a half-life of 1,000 years or more in the soil, which means that’s how long they take to degrade by 50% or more in some environmental conditions.

Forever chemicals can be grouped into two categories:

  • Long-chain PFAS with six or more carbon atoms
  • Short-chain PFAS with fewer carbon atoms

Long-chain PFAS chemicals have a more complex structure and take longer to break down. In the human body, long-chain PFAS have a half-life of around five years, while short-chain PFAS can break down in a matter of days or weeks.

Although this may make short-chain PFAS appear “safer,” they can still build up in the human body over time and contribute to the same health problems.

What Are the Main Sources of Exposure to PFAS?

The main source of exposure to forever chemicals is through consumer products that contain PFAS, including food packaging and nonstick cookware. One of the very first uses of PFAS was in Teflon cookware made by DuPont.

As concerns about the health effects of PFAS grew, DuPont (and its spin-off brand Chemours) replaced Teflon with other chemicals, but there are worries that these chemicals could be just as damaging to human and environmental health.

Other consumer products that may contain PFAS include:

  • Furniture
  • Carpets
  • Textiles
  • Dental floss
  • Cosmetics
  • Shampoo
  • Fast food wrappers

Forever chemicals are primarily found in consumer products with stain-resistant or nonstick coatings, including pizza boxes and bags of microwave popcorn.

We can also be exposed to PFAS pollution through environmental sources, such as contaminated water supplies near landfills and industrial sites. Some fish and dairy products may also contain high levels of PFAS due to environmental exposure.

Forever Chemicals Running Down Street in Environment

How Do Forever Chemicals Get Into the Environment?

PFAS chemicals aren’t just found in everyday consumer products. They can also end up in the environment, and contaminate the air, soil, surface water, and groundwater.

Forever chemicals enter the environment in a few different ways:

  • The manufacturing of products that contain PFAS: Although regulations have tightened, industrial facilities have historically dumped forever chemicals directly into waterways and municipal sewage systems.
  • The disposal of products that contain PFAS: Many of the consumer products we use that contain forever chemicals end up in landfills, where they break down and leach into the groundwater or surface water systems.
  • The use of products that contain PFAS: Some industrial uses of PFAS have yet to be phased out, such as the use of firefighting foams that contain PFAS, including at airports and on military bases.
  • The use of biofuels in agriculture: Some farmers use biofuels, or sewage sludge, to fertilize their crops, which may be contaminated with PFAS.
  • Wastewater disposal: Although wastewater treatment plants can be built to filter out forever chemicals, many of them aren’t currently designed to do so and end up releasing PFAS back into the environment.

PFAS contamination is prevalent throughout the U.S., but it isn’t distributed equally. It’s more likely to accumulate near industrial sites, airports, and military bases, including in places that already face existing environmental problems.

What Are the Health Effects of Forever Chemicals?

Like many toxic substances, forever chemicals aren’t going to have a noticeable effect in small doses. Instead, scientists are more concerned about the impacts of long-term exposure and what happens when PFAS builds up in the body over time.

Exposure to high concentrations of forever chemicals has been linked to:

  • Immune system problems
  • Liver, kidney, and thyroid problems
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Low birth weight
  • Testicular cancer
  • Reduced response to vaccines 

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that most Americans “have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood.” However, blood levels have been declining significantly following the phaseout of some types of PFAS.

Whether or not you experience the effects of forever chemicals over your lifetime will depend on the amount of exposure and your individual health characteristics.

How Can You Reduce PFAS Exposure?

Although forever chemicals are hard to avoid, there are several steps you can take to reduce your exposure to PFAS. The first is to avoid using products that contain PFAS, such as nonstick cookware and foods wrapped in grease-resistant wrappers.

Other items to watch out for include water-resistant clothing, including sportswear and yoga pants, and certain shampoos and cosmetics.

Be careful of items that are labeled “PFOS-free” or “PFOA-free,” since these may still contain other PFAS chemicals. Instead, look for “PFAS-free”, and choose brands that have committed to removing PFAS from their products and packaging.

When it comes to food packaging, look for compostable products that are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). These items must have “no intentionally added fluorinated chemicals” such as PFOS and PFOA.

Forever Chemicals in My Drinking Water

Are There Forever Chemicals in My Drinking Water?

Many cities in the U.S. have detectable levels of PFAS in their tap water, from Houston, Texas, to Sacramento, California. PFAS is an unregulated contaminant, which means the EPA hasn’t yet set a maximum legal limit for it — although it is increasing requirements for local water systems to test for it in drinking water.

As of 2023, the EPA has proposed a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for six types of PFAS, including an MCL of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS. However, some organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) propose a more cautious limit of 0.007 ppt as a recommended public health goal.

The tap water in some states would meet the EPA’s proposed limit, while exceeding the EWG’s recommendation. For example, Charlotte, North Carolina, reported PFOA levels of 1.9 ppt and PFOS levels of 3.6 ppt, nearly 500 times the EWG’s recommended limit.

If you’re thinking that bottled water might be the solution, the unfortunate truth is that bottled water often has PFAS in it too. Your best bet is to look up your water utility’s PFAS levels and choose an appropriate water filter to remove PFAS.

Can You Remove PFAS From Drinking Water?

Yes, water filters are effective at removing forever chemicals from your drinking water, as long as you choose the right one for your needs. Both activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters can remove PFAS from your tap water, but reverse osmosis filters are significantly more effective.

According to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), which certifies water filters, an activated carbon refrigerator water filter can remove 29–65% of short-chain PFAS and 57–72% of long-chain PFAS. An under-the-sink reverse osmosis filter can remove 94–99% of short-chain PFAS and 88–100% of long-chain PFAS.

Before choosing a water filter, check your local water quality report to find out which contaminants of concern are present in your drinking water.

To remove PFAS, look for an activated carbon filter with an NSF/ANSI 53 rating, or a reverse osmosis filter with an NSF/ANSI 58 rating.

Boiling your water, using a water softener, or using a UV filter won’t remove PFAS — although ultraviolet light does show some promise in breaking them down.

What Is Being Done to Address PFAS Pollution?

The EPA is moving forward to create a national standard for PFAS contamination, which would require local water utilities to test for six forever chemicals. Its Strategic Roadmap also includes steps to identify sources of PFAS pollution in the environment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ramping up research and testing of forever chemicals in food packaging and in certain types of seafood, while the Department of Defense is switching to PFAS-free firefighting foams on many military bases.

In manufacturing, apparel brands like Patagonia are switching to PFAS-free materials, and some states have begun to ban the use of PFAS in many consumer products.

Forever Chemicals Woman Gets Water Glass

How Worried Should I Be About Forever Chemicals?

Forever chemicals include PFOA, PFOS, and other harmful chemicals that have been widely used in the manufacturing of industrial and consumer products. Although some forever chemicals have been phased out and are less common than they once were, traces of them can still be found in the environment — and even in our tap water.

Learning about forever chemicals in your drinking water can be concerning, but don’t let it stop you from staying hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is important for human health, so don’t cut back because you’re worried about forever chemicals in your tap water.

Instead, use the HomeWater 4-Stage Reverse Osmosis Under Counter Water Filter to remove contaminants from your tap water and give you peace of mind.

Brought to you by

All images licensed from Adobe Stock.

Featured Image

Related Articles

Stay up to date with the latest promotions from HomeWater
Under Counter
Copyright ©2024 Home Water | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Shipping | Subscriptions | Returns | Warranty