As senior health editor Beth Skwarecki once said, you can’t avoid “forever chemicals” in your life (they’re already in 45% of our water supplies). You can, however, lower your exposure by following Beth’s advice, like filtering your air, checking ingredient labels, avoiding certain foods, and probably most importantly, filtering your water.
But not all water filters are built the same. While most water filters mention “removing PFAS” somewhere on their label, that is not an indication that they filter forever chemicals from your water. There are strict guidelines that products must follow to be certified as a PFAS filter.
How big of a problem are PFAS in water?
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First, let’s refresh what “forever chemicals” are. As Beth Skwarecki wrote:
“Forever chemicals” is a nickname for a family of chemicals that include fluorine and carbon. (“FC,” get it?) The name is appropriate, as the fluorine-carbon bond is so strong that most things in nature can’t break it down. Worms and germs will eat your body after you’re dead, but they can’t do much to break down PFOA, PFOS, or any of the other chemicals in this family.
The more precise name for this group of chemicals is PFAS, for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It’s a family that includes thousands of different individual chemicals. These chemicals are wonders of modern innovation, except for that pesky thing about never fully breaking down. They can make breathable waterproof coatings for camping gear, nonstick coatings for pans (Teflon is a classic PFAS), and they often provide the “waterproof” in waterproof mascara. Greaseproof wrappers and containers like those used for fast food and other food packaging also often owe their properties to PFAS.
A recent report from the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) said that at least 45% of our tap water has one or more types of PFAS (only 32 types of the over 12,000 were tested). This problem is especially bad in cities and towns, where they estimate 75% of urban water sources contain forever chemicals. This could mean the majority of us are drinking water with PFAS every day. Luckily, the EPA says we can reduce our intake of forever chemicals with the right water filters.
What to look for when shopping for water filters that remove PFAS
When shopping for filters that claim to remove PFAS from your water, you’ll want to make sure they’re certified by reputable third-party testing agencies (not the filter company itself) and display their seal on their filter. Otherwise, the product is not really certified by any standards to filter PFAS.
Certified products are constantly monitored and tested by certifying agencies to make sure that they perform as marketed. The following agencies are reputable and trusted organizations that you should look to have approved your water filter:
The water filter industry uses the code NSF/ANSI 53 to indicate that their product removes PFAS from the water, so keep an eye out for it in the filter description. If you’re looking at a reverse osmosis filter, look for NSF/ANSI 58.
The best water filters for removing PFAS
If you want the best of the best, you’re going to want a reverse osmosis filter. However, those can get pricey (upwards of $250, not including installation). You would be getting what you pay for, though—the EPA says they are more than 90% effective at removing PFAS. Luckily, there are more affordable options that are also certified by the reputable organizations mentioned: