Industrial facility with enormous storage containers

What Are PFAS Contaminants?

What does PFAS stand for?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short, are a group of man-made chemicals used to manufacture hundreds of products. PFAS are used in a variety of industries around the globe, and have been present on industrial and government sites in the United States since the 1950s.

The two most commonly produced PFAS are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The effects of these two specific chemicals have been studied the most, but there are over 4,000 unique PFAS in existence. GenX, for example, is a PFAS that was discovered in the waterways of North Carolina last year. This toxic chemical was being dumped directly into the Cape Fear River by manufacturing company Chemours.

Firefighter covering a burned vehicle with foam

Where do PFAS come from?

PFAS are used to manufacture a variety of products, many of which are designed to be water-repellant. Some common products that feature PFAS include: firefighting foam, non-stick pans, pizza boxes, fast food wrappers, cleaning products, polishes, cosmetics, shoes, and clothing.

A major source of PFAS contamination in the environment is from sites where PFAS manufacturing occurs or where firefighting training happens. Yes, firefighting! Many sites where PFAS contamination has been identified are military bases and airports where firefighters use firefighting foam to conduct drills and training exercises. The foam later washes into streams and waterways, becoming a pollutant. Accidental spillage from industrial sites is common, and purposeful release of chemicals can happen as well, like in the GenX case above.

For example, a recent accidental petrochemical fire at an industrial site near Houston, Texas, burned for several days and released benzene into the air. Extensive firefighting measures likely caused PFAS including PFOA and PFOS to contaminate the local public drinking water supplies, according to the Sierra Club.

Plate full of fast food

Why are PFAS dangerous?

PFAS do not occur naturally in the environment, but they are found in increasing amounts in wildlife, fish, and in humans. This is due to the nature of PFAS — these chemicals uniquely repel water, oil, and stains and do not break down quickly or easily. By design, PFAS are “forever” chemicals that accumulate in your body gradually. The health effects will worsen as you consume more water or breathe more air containing the harmful chemicals.

According to a 2016 study released by Harvard University researchers, 16 million people or more in America are exposed to drinking water with elevated levels of PFAS that can lead to serious health problems. This figure came from an in-depth analysis of drinking water sources across the country.

PFAS Health Effects

Diabetes blood test

What health problems can PFAS cause?

PFOA and PFOS are the most widely studied PFAS, and their effects are well documented. Experts are still conducting studies to learn more about the general health risks associated with PFAS.

Multiple studies have connected PFAS exposure to the following health problems:

  • Elevated cholesterol levels and an increased risk of developing diabetes
  • Disrupted thyroid, liver, and pancreatic function
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hormonal imbalances that can lead to fertility problems
  • Behavioral, growth, and intellectual development issues in infants and young kids
  • Increased risk of developing certain cancers, including kidney and testicular cancer

PFAS can cause significant health problems even at low exposure levels. Women and young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of PFAS. Minor exposure can cause lower birth rate, decreased immune response to vaccines, and delayed puberty.

Why do PFAS accumulate in the body?

When you ingest PFAS in your drinking water it is not removed quickly. It takes your body years to process PFAS, and because it repels water it cannot be “flushed out.” PFAS can linger in your body for extended periods of time.

If you continue to drink water contaminated with PFAS, the chemicals will grow more concentrated and elevate your risk for developing health problems. This is also true for exposed wildlife — much of the fish and meat we eat contains unhealthy levels of PFAS.

States With the Most PFAS Contamination

PFAS contamination has been found in water tests spanning 43 states in recent years, but many of the worst reports of contamination are concentrated in a handful of states. It is important to note that the likelihood of PFAS contamination increases with drinking water located near industrial sites, wastewater treatment facilities, and military compounds. Here are the top states with PFAS contamination:

Water contamination map of the United States


Michigan has the highest number of confirmed samples with PFAS contamination: 192. The ongoing lead crisis in Michigan isn’t the only drinking water issue that residents must worry about. We previously covered the alarming levels of PFAS contamination throughout Michigan on our blog — the PFAS Michigan crisis is so bad that, in the city of Parchment, the water supply tested for PFAS contamination 26 times the federal health advisory.


California has the second-highest concentration of PFAS contamination, largely centered in Southern California and the San Francisco area. A new study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that chemicals in California’s public water, including PFAS, contribute to the development of 15,000 cases of cancer in the state.

New Jersey

With 43 unique instances of PFAS contamination, the state of New Jersey has plenty to worry about when it comes to water quality. In May of 2019 the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit against eight manufacturers of firefighting foam that uses PFAS. The lawsuit claims that the companies “knew full well the health and environmental risks associated with this foam, and yet they sold it to New Jersey’s firefighters anyway.”

To see instances of PFAS contamination in your state, view the interactive PFAS contamination map from the EWG. The tool includes water testing results for each case of contamination and indicates whether the contamination originated from drinking water supplies, military sites, or other known sites like airports or industrial complexes.

How to Test Your Water for PFAS

Water sample testing at a waterway

The current benchmark for “safe” levels of PFAS in drinking water is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), but that figure is the subject of heated debate in the scientific community. A recent study suggested that the minimum risk levels of PFAS in drinking water be set at 7 ppt for PFOS and 11 ppt for PFOA. This would mean many of the contamination levels reported in the states above are 200 times above what is considered safe for consumption.

If you believe the drinking water in your home or private well could be contaminated with PFAS it’s best to conduct a water test for confirmation. Pelican Water carries various types of testing kits based on your budget and needs. Our water test kits will check for up to 32 unique contaminants, but our tests do not currently test for PFAS.

For accurate results you should find a laboratory certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test for drinking water contaminants. Search the EPA database of local certified laboratories and contact them right away. They will provide instructions for collecting and shipping your water sample so you can learn if your water is contaminated with PFAS.

Best Water Filters for PFAS Contamination

Concerned homeowners who want to protect their families from the harmful health effects of PFAS will be dismayed to learn that the majority of water filtration systems on the market are not certified to effectively reduce PFAS contamination.

Because most off-the-shelf water filters do not remove PFAS from drinking water, until recently scientists recommended filtration methods like whole house carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters until more available systems are certified to remove common PFAS like PFOS and PFOA.

That’s what makes Pelican Water stand ahead of the competition — we carry two affordable water filtration systems that are certified to reduce the concentration of PFOS and PFOA in your drinking water by 98%. These are the two most common PFAS, and they are responsible for most of the health problems indicated in current scientific studies.

Don’t settle or compromise if your water tests positive for PFAS — we have the solutions you need at Pelican Water. If your water contains PFOS or PFOA choose between these two water filtration systems:

Countertop Drinking Filter System — The Pelican Water Countertop Drinking Filter System is an effective and bargain-priced water filter system that reduces more than 60 common contaminants while taking up limited counter space. The system filters PFOA and PFOS at a rate of 98%, and also reduces chlorine, chloramines, lead, THMs, cysts, and mercury at rates of 97% and above. The result is healthier, great-tasting water for your whole family.

Under Counter Drinking Filter System — Install your comprehensive yet compact water filter system underneath your kitchen counter. The Pelican Water Under Counter Drinking Filter System features the same compact and state-of-the-art technology of the Countertop Drinking Filter System, with the added benefit of under counter mounting capabilities to keep the system completely out of sight. Never worry about PFOA, PFOS, mercury, cysts, lead, chlorine, THMs, and other common contaminants with this revolutionary water filtration solution.

Both models are available at stunningly low prices, protecting your family from the hazards of PFAS for less than $100. If you have any questions about our products or about filtering PFAS from your drinking water contact a Pelican Water specialist today.