Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic (PFOS) Acid in Drinking Water

What Are PFOA and PFOS?

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic (PFOS) acid are part of a group of chemicals commonly referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) or perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFOA and PFOS are man-made chemicals that up until 2000 had been widely used in the manufacturing of many industrial and consumer products such as paper and cardboard food packaging, insecticides, electronics, stain repellants, paints, plumbing tape, firefighting foam and non-stick cooking surfaces.

Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. In 2006, eight major companies voluntarily agreed to phase out their global production of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals.

Prior to phasing PFOA and PFOS out of production, large quantities were released into the environment during the manufacturing processes and have been found to have contaminated the drinking water supplies near current or former manufacturing locations.

Potential Health Effects from PFOA and PFOS

Exposure to unsafe levels of PFOA/PFOS concentrations through drinking water may result in health effects including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy, cancer, liver effects, immune effects and thyroid effects.1

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a lifetime of exposure health advisory at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for both PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. This EPA health advisory level was established to provide a margin of protection to all Americans as well as those who are immuno-compromised or in special populations (elderly, children).1

What to Do If There Is a PFOA/PFOS Water Advisory

Don’t boil your water.2 Boiling water that contains PFOA/PFOS will actually concentrate the contaminant. Follow the advice of your municipal water authority regarding using water for drinking, cooking, bathing, dish washing, providing to pets or filtering during the advisory.

How to Reduce PFOA/PFOS in Drinking Water

NSF International scientists and public health experts have been testing and certifying products for more than 70 years. We developed the protocol NSF P473 to evaluate drinking water treatment devices, using science-based test methods, on their ability to reduce PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. To earn NSF International certification to NSF P473, water treatment systems, including water filters, must undergo extensive testing which includes meeting strict material safety and structural requirements as defined in NSF/ANSI 53, an American National Standard for drinking water treatment units - health effects. Reverse osmosis (RO) systems must also meet all of the requirements defined in NSF/ANSI 58, a standard for RO systems. In accordance with these standards, NSF International verifies that:

  • The contaminant reduction claims for PFOA and PFOS shown on the label are true.
  • The system does not add anything harmful to the water.
  • The system is structurally sound.
  • The product labeling, advertising and literature are not misleading.

To make a PFOA/PFOS reduction claim, a water filter must be able to reduce these chemicals to below the EPA healthy advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. Certified products must be retested periodically and manufacturing facilities must be inspected every year, which ensures products continue to meet all requirements.

To find products that are certified by NSF International to reduce PFOA/PFOS in drinking water, see NSF International’s certification listings for PFOA/PFOS filters.

For any questions about PFOA/PFOS in drinking water or finding a water filter for your home, please contact our consumer information hotline at +1.800.673.8010 or email info@nsf.org.


1 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf
2 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-05/documents/pfoa_health_advisory_final_508.pdf

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