What Are PFAs and Why Are We Concerned?

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of human-made chemicals used in various industrial and consumer products for their water and grease-resistant properties. They are found in items such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, and some firefighting foams.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily in the environment or the human body, leading to potential accumulation over time. Exposure of PFAS has been linked to adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, and increased risk of certain cancers.

Types of PFAS

There are thousands of different PFAS, but the most reported and widely known types include:

  • PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid): Used in the production of non-stick cookware and various industrial applications.
  • PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate): Previously used in firefighting foams and stain-resistant fabrics.

These types have been phased out or restricted in many countries due to their health and environmental risks, but they have been replaced by other PFAS compounds that are still under scrutiny.

Why Are PFAs Being Restricted?

Environmental Damage

PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. This persistence means that once released, PFAS can remain in soil and water for many years, leading to long-term environmental contamination.

Health Risks

Exposure to high levels of PFAS has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:

PFAS can accumulate in the human body over time. Because they are not easily broken down or excreted, repeated exposure can lead to higher concentrations in the body, increasing the risk of adverse health effects.

The broad health risks of PFAs are still yet to be fully researched and discovered, too.

How Are We Exposed to PFAs?

Worldwide, this compound is found in over 4000 chemicals with many of them used in everyday commodities in households and workplaces. That means we can be exposed to PFAS in several different ways every day without realising it. 

By being aware of these common sources, we can take proactive steps to minimise contact with PFAS, contributing to better health and a safer living environment.

Food and Water

  • Contaminated Soil and Water: PFAS can seep into soil and water, which are then used to grow crops. This can lead to contamination of fruits, vegetables, and other produce.
  • Food Packaging: Many food packaging materials, such as microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, and pizza boxes, are treated with PFAS to make them grease-resistant. These chemicals can leach into the food they contain.

Household Products

  • Non-Stick Cookware: Cookware coated with non-stick surfaces often contains PFAS. These chemicals can be released during cooking, especially at high temperatures.
  • Stain-Resistant Fabrics: Carpets, upholstered furniture, and clothing treated to resist stains often contain PFAS, which can be released during regular use or cleaning.
  • Water-Repellent Clothing: Outdoor gear, including jackets, boots, and camping equipment, may be treated with PFAS to make them water-resistant.


  • Manufacturing and Industrial Use: Employees in industries that produce or use PFAS, such as chemical manufacturing, textile production, and firefighting foam application, can be exposed through inhalation or skin contact.

Dust and Air

  • Indoor Dust: PFAS can accumulate in household dust, especially in homes with products that contain these chemicals. Regular activities like vacuuming and dusting can stir up these particles, leading to inhalation or ingestion.
  • Airborne Particles: PFAS can be present in the air, particularly in enclosed spaces with PFAS-containing products. This can occur through off-gassing, where chemicals are released from products over time. PFAs can even be transported via rain. 

Can PFAs Be Removed From Water?

Traditional water treatment processes, such as coagulation, sedimentation, and filtration, are designed to remove common contaminants like bacteria, sediments, and some dissolved solids. However, PFAS are unique due to their chemical structure and strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which make them highly resistant to breakdown and removal. Because of this, the only way to effectively remove PFAS from water is through reverse osmosis (RO).

Though less effective, there are advanced treatment techniques that have been developed that can reduce PFAS levels in water too. These methods are typically used by municipalities and in-home water treatment systems to ensure safer drinking water. 

To date, these systems are very expensive to treat a complete house hold from PFAS and municipalities are reluctant to install such expensive filtration systems on grid.

Ways PFAS can be reduced in water:

Activated Carbon Filters 

Granular activated carbon (GAC) filters are effective, to an extent, in reducing PFAS from water. The carbon adsorbs the PFAS molecules, trapping them in the filter.

Reverse Osmosis (RO)

RO systems force water through a semi-permeable membrane, which completely blocks PFAS and other contaminants. This method is highly effective.

An under-sink Reverse Osmosis system is relatively inexpensive but the quality of these systems vary, so it is essential to be wary of the low-priced systems.

Ion Exchange Resins

These resins exchange ions in the water with ions attached to the resin, effectively reducing PFAS. This method is often used in industrial settings.

Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs) 

These processes use a combination of ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and ultraviolet light to break down PFAS molecules in water. AOPs are effective but typically used in larger-scale water treatment facilities.

How to Remove PFAs From Water at Home

The most effective way to completely remove PFAs from water in your home is to combine a whole-house filtration system with a separate reverse osmosis (RO) system at the point of distribution (kitchen tap for example).

The whole-house filtration system treats all the water entering your home, reducing PFAS levels in water used for bathing, cleaning, and other household purposes. It typically includes pre-filters for large particles and activated carbon filters that adsorb many PFAS compounds.

For drinking and cooking water, a reverse osmosis system provides an additional layer of protection. The RO system forces water through a semi-permeable membrane, effectively removing PFAS and other dissolved contaminants. It usually includes a sediment filter, carbon filter, and post-filter for thorough purification.

Together, these systems ensure comprehensive filtration: the whole-house system reduces PFAS exposure from all water uses, while the RO system provides highly purified water for consumption. This dual approach offers the most effective protection against PFAS in your home.