We rely on water for cooking, bathing, drinking, and much more. But just how clean is that water? It's been in the news recently. We have all seen how poor water quality in Michigan and other areas can cripple communities. But have you heard about the national PFAS water contamination? Maybe you have seen it. That foamy material that washes up on lakeshores and bodies of water. PFAS builds up quite heavily. So it's really high concentrations along shorelines of many lakes.
PFAS is not just in drinking water but also found in fast-food wrappers, clothing and even carpets. However, since the body can not break down these PFAS chemicals, the more you take in, the more it will accumulate. Once PFAS is dissolved in the water, it can spread laterally, because it's so soluble and mobile in the water. It can go in any direction left, right, up, down.
But it's not just on surface water but in the groundwater as well. Many communities and property values are affected across the nation, yet homeowners are not aware of their PFAS levels. I tried to find a PFAS test kit myself and really there isn't one available on the market. All I know is if you live or near a military base, whether active or decommissioned, you might be affected by PFAS contamination. Both surface and in groundwater.
What are PFAS Chemicals?
PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. PFAS is a class of chemicals. It's not just one individual chemical. More like thousands of them. All man-made. The two main ones recently in question from the federal and state agencies are PFOS Perfluorooctanesulfonic and perfluorooctanoic acid PFOA.
These PFAS are highly resistive against heat, stains, grease, and water. PFAS is heavily used as a firefighting foam on military bases. The way that the foams work is it coats the fuel with a film, and then the oxygen can't get to it. What happens is when you spray something down with it, now it's on the ground. And then from that, it can percolate into the groundwater and surface water
PFAS toxins are also found in consumer products ranging from Scotchguard, Teflon, metal plating, heat, and water repellent products, and stain-resistant fabrics. Typically things like coating on fabrics, the coating on carpets have PFAS. Be wary of fabrics labeled stain or water repellent. Do your research.
The big thing to understand is groundwater is a very static thing compared to surface water. With a river, you imagine the surface water source like a river. If you contaminate a river, and that flows through. With groundwater, it's more like a bowl that's being contaminated. The problem with PFAS is it does not break down in the environment. So once it's there, it's there.
What are the PFAS Health Effects With Contaminated Water?
PFAS adverse health effects are tied to immune system deficiencies, certain cancers, reproductive problems in women, hormone imbalance, and stunted growth in children. PFAS compounds don't break down the environment. It's a forever chemical. The CDC says PFOS with long carbon chains have estimated half-lives of at least two to nine years in the human body.
The health advisory term is really an unenforceable term that EPA kind of uses to say, well, we've done our research. It’s not regulated yet, but this is what we can provide for you. It is 70 parts per trillion for the EPA like lifetime health advisory level. But obviously, the scientific community and regulatory agencies like the CDC believe that it should be a lot lower for drinking water. Some people recommend doing a detox by drinking kombucha. I am no health expert so be sure to check with your doctor. Choose personal care products like dental floss without the ingredients PTFE or Flouro. Finally, it may sound simple, but stay away from microwavable popcorn bags. The inside is usually coded in PFAS.
Why speculate about whether you've had exposure to PFAS toxins when you can actually know whether you have had them? You may know it's in the water, but we don't know for how long it's been in the water in a particular house and we don't know at what concentrations going back in time. So the only way to identify your own internal exposure is to have the blood tests done. Then you have real facts. You take those real facts to your doctor and you and your doctor can figure out what to do with it. Choose personal care products like dental floss without the ingredients PTFE or Flouro. Finally, it may sound simple but stay away from microwavable popcorn bags. The inside is usually coded in PFAS.
PFAS Contamination Map by EWG Scientists
The Environmental Working Group updated its map of PFAS affected areas to include an extensive list of new municipalities. PFAS is a key ingredient in firefighting foam. High levels can be found in water near military bases. Additionally, many of the recently added sites in New York and New Jersey are near PFAS production facilities. So you’re thinking because it's on military bases, that would be the responsibility of the Department of Defense to do something about it, right?
Well, when you have a source of contamination that's on a military base, it's often not subject to the same regulations that it would if as it would be in the private sector. The local municipalities are also drawing from that same aquifer or source can have that contamination can spread far and wide. It's not just a point inside the base.
Many nonmilitary families positively can be affected, which are in proximity to the bases that can be affected. Also, local fire departments oftentimes go to military bases and air force bases to train because it provides a secure location for them to train. So that also adds to just the amount of PFAS on these bases. So it's not only military personnel that is using that space.
The Department of Defense tested has tested nearly 3000 groundwater wells across the country. Both on base and off base. They discovered that 61 percent of those wells tested above EPA recommended limits.
But Are current EPA limits aren't enforceable?
EPA PFAS & Local Municipalities Contamination
The health advisory term is really an unenforceable term that EPA kind of uses to say, well, we've done our research. It’s not regulated yet, but this is what we can provide for you. The Environmental Protection Agency sent forth a health advisory stating 70 PPT ( parts per trillion) provides a safe margin of protection with certain chemicals in the PFOS family that are found in drinking water. The conflict comes in from EWG which is the environmental working group. Based on their recent study 31 states have toxic PFAS levels.
Their recent scientific study along with the CDC states 1PPT is to be a standard. You will find homes that test below 70 parts per trillion. But is this safe? Some home tests are above 70 parts per trillion, but that's only PFOA and PFAS molecules. Maybe your town sends you a water report every year. Read them people don't just throw them away. If you aren't satisfied show up to the town meeting and voice your concerns. My thinking agrees because if it's a forever chemical then it compounds itself in your body.
This is one of those things where sometimes municipalities and people that that aren't big fans of environmental regulations, a lot of times they'll say they'll try and use that to dismiss it like, oh, it's just a drop of water and Olympic size swimming pool. Toxicologists turn around and say, no, that's an actual demonstration of how toxic these chemicals are. With Municipalities, you get a lot of we don't test because there's no requirement to do so.
PFAS Water Filter Systems
The technology for filtering PFAS at the municipal level just isn't really there yet. On top of that would be ridiculously expensive. As far as residential filters for home the real question I have is if different cities have different problems with their water, why do water filter companies mass-produce one size fits all system? How would a mass-produced filter know what my contaminants are? It has no clue.
Kind of like hiring a jack of all trades handyman for custom cabinet work or remodeling. You'll get your cabinets up, but they're not going to look or last as if a specialist cabinetmaker came in and did that work. You have specialists for each task. This is the same principle as water filters. A mass-produced big name brand filter off the shelf maybe can filter a lot of water toxins somewhat but will certainly fail to filter anyone alone on an expert level.
So I stumbled upon and hooked up with that specialist custom filter company. This custom produced water filter provides PFAS filtering to undetectable levels. But not just PFAS contamination. A lot of other toxins as well. Specific for your local area. Oh, the cool part is that the company was also recently featured on Shark Tank and got funded by Mark Cuban. You can see that short episode clip by clicking here. The story behind the company owner is really amazing in itself.
You see prior to Hydroviv, Dr. Eric Roy, the founder was working for the department of defense as a Ph.D. chemist/engineer and had heard about what was going on in Michigan with the lead contamination. So he stepped up and just started building high capacity lead removal filters and donating them to people of Flint months before nationwide media coverage. To me, that is a true hero! That is how his idea came to mind.
Hydroviv drinking water filters have been independently tested and shown to filter PFAS chemicals, including GenX, from water. If you’d like to see one of these reports, which was done in a customer’s home (which is a more challenging and realistic scenario than under controlled laboratory conditions), you can view the report HERE: Affiliate Disclosure: I am an affiliate with Hydroviv and may receive a small commission should you purchase through this link.
What do we do now? It's costly to remove PFAS at the municipal level. There are water filtration technologies out there that are effective and inexpensive. For $150- $300 you can prevent something very bad from happening. Science and information are always going to move faster than the speed of legislation. People should at least be aware of the problems as they come on out
Does Reverse Osmosis Remove PFAS Water Contaminants?
There are a lot of reverse osmosis systems that do work. People who live in, rental buildings probably aren't able to use them because you need to drill a pipe and through countertops, so it makes it not too easy. Maintenance of reverse osmosis is critical to the longevity of the system and can be complicated.
For effective RO, the raw water must first be rendered biologically inactive, and if high in dissolved Fe or Mn or contains S compounds, something like an Mn green sand filter followed by a 5 then 2-micron filter, then an activated charcoal filter (to remove Cl) and then the RO module should provide excellent quality. PH needs to be evaluated and adjusted if necessary. If hollow fiber RO units may allow back flushing or air pulsing to lengthen life. However, residential units typically run a 20% recovery ratio, meaning 80% of the raw water goes to the sewer. The product will be water low in TSS, TDS, Cl-, F-, minerals, nitrates and PFAS.
Many home big brand pitcher filters simply do not filter out PFAS. There are several technical things that you're just not going to get out of a $10 filter. If you are choosing a water filter, be sure to demand from the manufacturer third-party data showing that PFAS is removed.
Recent PFAS Regulations
Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell recently introduced the most sweeping piece of PFAS legislation to date. The legislation would require EPA to set standards for PFOA and PFOS require PFAS contaminated sites to fall under EPA Superfund program. As well as authorize funding to help municipalities comply with new regulations regarding PFAS.
Scientists don't know how to eliminate cost-effectively PFOS from the water systems at the municipal level. For now, there's just more waiting until state legislatures figure out the next move.
Standards for PFOA and PFAS recently sent from the Office of Information Regulatory Affairs or OIRA back to the Environmental Protection Agency. This either means that OIRA wants EPA to revise the proposed rule or that it's ready to be published in the Federal Register. Either way, this will be a massive accomplishment for national primary drinking water standards. The regulation, of course, will need to navigate legal action from PFAS producers. But for now, this could result in real, meaningful change for EPA.