While the research is still new, some studies show that PFAS found in the water supply can be hazardous to your health.

Someone pouring a glass of water, likely containing "forever chemicals".Share on Pinterest
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Water contamination is a serious problem for billions of people around the globe ― including millions of people in the United States.

While water treatment techniques have drastically decreased the contaminants that enter our water supply, there’s one type of contaminant that almost all Americans are still exposed to daily: per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or “forever chemicals.”

Below, we’ll share everything you need to know about forever chemicals, including how they enter the water supply and how you can reduce your exposure to these potentially harmful substances.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured substances that are present in many of the consumer products we use every day, from personal products to food packaging and more.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thousands of PFAS exist, but perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are the most commonly PFAS found in our environment.

PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they break down very slowly over time. Because of this, they can build up not in the environment and in our bodies ― possibly affecting our health and increasing the risk of certain health conditions.

An interactive map created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which uses data compiled from multiple government sources and surveys, shows that PFAS are released from many different facilities, such as:

  • sewage and waste treatment plants
  • waste disposal facilities and landfills
  • carwashes, airports, and military bases
  • petroleum stations, terminals, and refineries
  • carpet, fabric, leather, and other textile product mills
  • chemical, plastic, resin, and paint manufacturing plants

Forever chemicals are released into the environment ― including the water, soil, and air ― as a by-product of production processes at these facilities.

Sometimes, PFAS enter the water directly from industrial wastewater, which is released from manufacturing or treatment plants during the production process. Other times, PFAS can leak into the water from contaminated landfills or contaminated soil on farmland.

Even though a majority of the U.S. population has been exposed to PFAS during their lifetime, it wasn’t until recently that researchers began to explore the impact that these chemicals can have on our health.

In one review from 2020, researchers explored the literature on the relationship between PFAS exposure and cancer in 18 different studies.

Results of the review found that overall, there’s limited evidence of a possible link between PFAS and most types of cancer. However, the evidence does suggest that PFAS exposure may possibly increase the risk of testicular and kidney cancer ― although much larger studies are needed.

Another review published in 2021 investigated the impact of PFAS on female reproductive outcomes, including reproductive diseases.

According to this review, studies have shown that PFAS may affect reproductive, breast, and thyroid tissues. In addition, these chemicals may even increase the risk of reproductive conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

One thing to keep in mind is that most of this research is relatively new, and many of the studies mentioned in these reviews are small, with conflicting evidence. At the end of the day, while it does appear that PFAS may have negative effects on our health, more research is still needed.

How to test for forever chemicals in your water

At this time, only three testing methods have been approved by the EPA to test PFAS in drinking water. And although these methods aren’t necessarily widely available for use in-home ― government agencies and private laboratories can use these methods to provide homeowners with information about possible PFAS exposure.

If you’re worried about the levels of forever chemicals in your water, consider contacting your water utility company to learn more about what their testing shows.

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According to the EPA, three treatment options have been shown to effectively remove PFAS from drinking water:

  • Activated carbon treatment: One of the most widely used options for reducing longer-chain PFAS in water is activated carbon treatment. With this method, filtered water travels through activated carbon, which can adhere to and remove the PFAS from passing through the water.
  • Ion exchange treatment: Ion exchange treatment is another effective option for reducing PFAS in drinking water. With this treatment, positively charged anion exchange resins (AER) “magnetize” negatively charged PFAS particles, preventing them from passing through the filtered water.
  • High-pressure membranes: High-pressure membranes, which include filtration methods like nanofiltration or reverse osmosis, are another effective method of removing PFAS from water. With this method, membranes allow water to pass through while preventing certain particles like PFAS from passing through.

While all of these filtration options are available to use at home, they can be expensive ― especially if you’re installing a whole home filtration system. However, one potentially affordable option to filter out PFAS at home is a reverse osmosis water filtration system, which can be installed directly under the sink to filter your drinking water.

Learn more about protecting yourself from PFAS exposure here.

Be the change

As research continues to uncover more about the possible negative impact of forever chemicals on our health, it’s important that we all take steps to learn more about these chemicals and their impact.

One way to protect yourself is to be mindful of the products that you use and consume and to share that information with others. For example, you can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for more information on PFAS in everyday products so that you can limit your and your loved one’s risk.

You can also visit the EPA’s newsroom to sign up for alerts on news releases and other important announcements on what the government is doing to prevent and clean up PFAS contamination.

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If you live in the United States, there’s a high chance that you’ve already been exposed to ― and are possibly still being exposed to ― PFAS in your drinking water.

But just because many of us have already been exposed to PFAS, that doesn’t mean that we can’t take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these potentially harmful chemicals. In fact, the EPA recommends that each of us stay proactive in learning more about these chemicals and reducing our exposure to them.