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. However, 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.

To make informed decisions about how to reduce PFOA and PFOS in your drinking water, reference the below frequently asked questions.

What are PFCs, PFAs, PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and PFNA?

These chemicals are part of a group of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs), sometimes referred to as PFAs (perfluoroalkyl substances). There is a wide range of chemicals in this group including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).

These manufactured chemicals are not naturally found in the environment. They are used in industrial and consumer applications due to their ability to withstand water, grease and high temperatures. Common uses include:

  • Paper and cardboard food packaging
  • Stain repellants in clothing and carpet
  • Firefighting foam
  • Non-stick cooking surfaces

These chemicals were phased out in the early 2000s, but they remain in soil and groundwater and have a high potential to bioaccumulate in humans, meaning they stay in the body for a long time.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established drinking water health advisories for drinking water to contain a combined maximum total concentration of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

How do I find a treatment system to remove PFOA and PFOS from my drinking water?

NSF International has tested and certified many different point-of-use treatment devices for the removal of PFAs from drinking water, specifically PFOS and PFOA. These products have been tested to NSF Protocol P473, and capacities of these products range from 200 to 1,300 gallons. Certified treatment systems can be found in NSF's online listings.

What is NSF P473?

NSF P473 is a test protocol for point-of-use treatment devices that claim to reduce PFOA and PFOS. NSF P473 tests the reduction of PFAs using an influent challenge water of 1.0 ug/L (1,000 parts per trillion or ppt) of PFOS and 0.5 ug/L (500 ppt) as PFOA.

Products are tested to 200 percent of the manufacturer’s stated capacity for units without a performance indicating device, or 120 percent with a performance indicating device. Effluent levels must be 0.07 ug/L (70 ppt) or less to pass the test (95.3 percent reduction).

Do the CDC’s minimal risk levels impact NSF P473?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has drafted proposed minimum risk levels (MRLs). These are intended for use as a screening tool by public health officials to identify exposures that could be potentially hazardous to human health.

MRLs are not regulatory levels or action levels, and are not directly related to U.S. EPA drinking water levels such as maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) or health advisories.

The MRLs are reported in units of daily dose (mg/kg/day) and are thus not directly comparable with risk estimates presented in units other than dose. For example, EPA drinking water health advisories (HAs) are derived from oral reference doses (RfDs) by applying drinking water intake and body weight factors and are, as a result, reported in units of concentration (mg/L). In addition, the considerations used to set an ATSDR MRL and those used to identify an oral RfD for derivation of an EPA drinking water HA are different because the MRL and the HA have two different intended applications.

Consequently, it is not appropriate to compare MRLs with oral RfDs used in the derivation of a drinking water HA. These comparisons are particularly inappropriate when one or more of the compared values have not been finalized, as is the case with the provisional MRLs for the PFAs. This and other relevant information related to the ATDSR provisional MRLs is contained in “PFAs Toxicological Profile Key Messages” on the ATSDR’s website.

Will there be any changes to P473?

NSF will continue to monitor scientific literature for other assessments of PFAs to determine if adjustments to the testing parameters for the protocol will need to be reconsidered. In the event that information of influence to the protocol or its parameters is identified, that information would be reviewed internally and vetted externally with the NSF Health Advisory Board and the Joint Peer Review Steering Committee prior to making any recommendations for change to the protocol steering committee.

If there is interest from manufacturers to incorporate PFHxS and PFNA or others PFAs into the current P473 protocol, that is something that could be discussed and pursued. As NSF does not currently have criteria in place for these additional PFAs, risk assessment efforts would be required to derive criteria to which results from testing to P473 could be compared.

What about getting my water tested for PFCs?

There is no taste, smell or color associated with PFOA and PFOS, according to the Water Systems Council. So the only way to know if your water is contaminated with these chemicals is to have your water tested. Testing for these chemicals can be expensive, but should be performed especially in areas near manufacturing facilities. Contact your state or local health department for a list of state-certified laboratories in your area.