What Are PFAs and Why Is the United States So Concerned?

As of late, an emerging class of contaminants called PFAs have emerged as a threat to human health. PFAs are known as “forever chemicals” due to their slow breakdown and persistence in the environment. 
Julia Hall
July 25, 2023

What Are PFAs and Why Is The United States So Concerned?

By Julia Hall

As of late, an emerging class of contaminants called PFAs have been recognized as a threat to human health. PFAs are known as “forever chemicals” due to their slow breakdown and persistence in the environment. 

The USGS conducted a comprehensive study on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in tap water from both private wells and public supplies throughout the United States. This study is the first of its kind to compare and test PFAS in tap water on a broad scale nationwide. 

The study found that at least one type of PFAS could be present in nearly half of the tap water samples tested, regardless of whether it came from private wells or public supplies. PFAs in the United States flow through several sources and are difficult to break down. 

Different Types of PFAs

There are several different chemical makeups of PFAs. Per the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there are thousands of types of PFA chemical compounds. 

The most common types of PFAs are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) chemicals are also common types. Luckily, according to the CDC, PFOAs and PFOs are no longer produced in the United States. Even so, other countries produce them still, so some may still enter into the United States. 

Negative Health Effects of PFAs in Water

Current scientific research indicates that exposure to certain PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes, although further research is ongoing to understand the full range of effects.

Not much is known about the exact effects of PFAs on the body, though research shows that their resistance to breaking down in the human body can be harmful. 

Studies have shown that exposure to PFAs may result in reproductive effects, developmental issues in children, increased cancer risk, compromised immune system function, hormonal interference, and elevated cholesterol levels or obesity. 

Where Do PFAs Come From?

These synthetic chemicals are used in various industrial and consumer products for their unique properties such as water repellency. This means that they’ve been used in several manufacturing applications—from landfills to firefighting foam. 

The disposal of PFAS-containing waste from manufacturing plants can lead to the release of these chemicals into the environment. Wastewater treatment plants that receive industrial effluents may not effectively remove PFAS, releasing them into surface waters.

PFAS have been widely used in industrial processes and manufacturing for decades. They’ve been used to create various consumer products such as textiles, carpets, upholstery, paper, and packaging materials.

These chemicals have also been used in firefighting applications. PFAS-containing firefighting foams, known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), have been extensively used in firefighting training exercises, airport crash responses, and for suppressing fuel-based fires. These foams are a significant source of PFAS contamination, particularly in areas near military bases, airports, and firefighter training facilities., and packaging materials, mostly due to their water and stain-resistant properties.

PFAs in the United States

There is current concern over the levels of PFAs in drinking water sources in the United States. Some PFAs in the United States are authorized—to a certain degree–in cookware, food packaging, and some food processing equipment. (FDA). 

In the United States, PFAs are not completely banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Certain states have banned the use of PFAs. 

Many states in the United States have taken action to address the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in various products. Here’s a breakdown of state-level bans and restrictions:

Food Packaging:

  • Twelve states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, have enacted bans on PFAS in food packaging. These measures aim to reduce PFAS exposure through the packaging materials used for food and beverages.

Personal Care Products:

  • Four states, namely California, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington, have implemented restrictions on PFAS in personal care products. This means that certain PFAS compounds are prohibited or limited in cosmetics and other personal care items.

Oil and Gas Products:

  • The state of Colorado has adopted restrictions specifically targeting PFAS in oil and gas products. These measures aim to reduce the presence and potential release of PFAS in the oil and gas industry, mitigating potential environmental contamination.

Firefighting Foam:

  • Eleven states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, have implemented bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS. This addresses the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams, which can be a significant source of PFAS contamination in the environment.

How to Filter PFAs Out Of Drinking Water

There are two primary methods of filtering PFAs out of your drinking water. Granular activated carbon systems (GAC) and reverse osmosis (RO) systems can handle PFAs.

Both GAC and RO filtration systems are effective in reducing PFAS substances, but they have some key differences.

GAC systems use carbon filtration cartridges to capture contaminants, including PFAS, while providing higher water flow compared to RO systems. GAC cartridges are rated to treat more gallons of water and are less expensive to replace.


On the other hand, RO systems reduce a broader range of contaminants, including arsenic and nitrates, through a combination of sediment filters, carbon filters, and an RO membrane. However, they provide lower water flow, use more water than they treat, remove minerals (although some systems have remineralizers), and require more frequent cartridge and membrane changes. Additionally, RO systems are generally more costly than GAC systems.

Our Products Can Help

At Business Connect, we are proud to offer Granular Activated Carbon and Reverse Osmosis systems for water purification. If you want to learn more about our lineup of specialized technologies, or are generally interested in solutions for PFAs, get in touch with us. We’re happy to help with any question, comment, or concern about the state of your water. 

On this page

Have a story to share in the world of water, sanitation, and hygiene? Connect with our media team today!

Share Your Story

If you liked this, read these next:

Image of ExpressWater filter

Top Five Most Effective Whole House Water Filters

A variety of sediments can invade your water at any place, whether that be in the pipes leading up to your house or in your city’s water supply. Whether a manual solution or an automatic, larger-scale solution is best for you, here are the top five best whole house sediment water filtration systems.

Read More »