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What are PFAS, PFOA, and PFOS?

Learn more about Chemical Water Contamination

What Are PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that include Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). These elements have a negative effect on the health of those exposed to them. Used as early as the 1940s, PFAS were once thought of as beneficial because of their ability to repel fire, water, oil and stains. Since PFAS functioned as great repellents, companies used them to produce a variety of products, including:

  • Stain- and water-resistant fabrics
  • Non-stick products
  • Polishes
  • Waxes
  • Paints
  • Cleaning products
  • Fire-fighting foams

Many companies began phasing out the production of PFAS in 2000. However, these chemicals continue to have a residual impact on the environment today as they have polluted the air, soil and water. PFAS contamination is still found in water supplies across North America. Learn more about PFAS, how you could be exposed to them and what you can do to help protect your family below.


How Are We Exposed To PFAS?

There are three major ways in which you can still be exposed to PFAS today, including:

Household Products Containing PFAS

Using or disposing of products that contain PFAS can lead to exposure. PFAS sources can include:

  • Non-stick cookware
  • Stain-resistant apparel, textiles, leather or carpets
  • Paper and packaging materials

PFAS In Food Packaging

You can be exposed to small amounts of PFAS by ingesting food that has been contaminated by being:

  • Packaged in material containing PFAS
  • Processed with equipment that used PFAS
  • Grown in contaminated water or soil

PFAS In Water

Small amounts of PFAS can accumulate in your body over time. PFAS water contamination is typically associated with areas in close proximity to a specific facility, for example:

  • An industrial site where PFAS were used to manufacture other products
  • Locations used for firefighting, such as oil refineries and airfields, often have contaminated water supplies, since PFAS were heavily used in fire-fighting foams

What Are PFOS And PFOA?

You may be asking, “what are PFOS and PFOA”? PFOS and PFOA were two highly-produced PFAS chemicals until studies revealed the negative health and environmental implications of using these chemicals. PFOS and PFOA were used in a variety of items, such as:


  • The coating on leathers and fabrics
  • In stain-repellent carpeting
  • Fire resistant foams
  • Pesticides
  • Household cleaning products

What does PFOS and PFOA stand for? PFOS refers to Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and PFOA stands for Perfluorooctanoic Acid. They are water and stain-resistant synthetic compounds that are difficult to break down in the environment and in the human body.

Why are PFOS and PFOA still a concern today if these chemicals are no longer in production? Even though PFOS and PFOA are no longer produced in the United States, they are still used internationally. This means you can still be exposed to PFOS and PFOA through imported goods, like carpets, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics. PFAS are resilient and can still be found in contaminated soil and water.

In an effort to reduce PFAS exposure from imported goods, Canada prohibited the use, sale and import of products containing PFOS in 2008. The usage of PFAS have been restricted to firefighting foams and photo ink.


Health Advisories For PFOS And PFOA

First,a bit of information about Health Advisories:

  • Who issues them? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Health Canada
  • Why do they issue them? To alert and educate the public about contamination/chemicals that may have adverse health risks, including contaminants in water.


Under the Great Water Quality Agreement, both Canada and the United States agreed to create a bi-national plan in 2016 to address the problem of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.


As a result, Health Canada released guidelines for the maximum acceptable amount of PFOS and PFOA allowed in water. PFOA are acceptable in drinking water up to .0002 milligrams per liter and PFOS are acceptable at a maximum of .0006 per liter.


Following Canada’s footsteps, the EPA established the Health Advisory levels for PFOS and PFOA at 70 parts per trillion. At this level, your public water system is required to notify you that the water supply in your area is contaminated. PFAS water contamination has been found in 43 states. Major cities with contaminated water include:


  • Los Angeles, California
  • Bloomington, Illinois
  • Miami, Florida
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado

How Do PFAS Affect Your Health?


According to the EPA, PFAS health effects may include:


  • Developmental delays
  • Reproductive health issues
  • Neuroendocrine issues affecting the kidneys and liver
  • Cancer
  • Thyroid imbalances
  • Cardiovascular concerns

If you’re concerned about PFAS in your water supply, request information from your water board and ask for a Consumer Confidence Report for your records.

Environmental Risks

How has the creation of these chemicals affected our environment? PFAS were released into the air, soil, and water. Consequently, the chemicals also leaked into water supplies, which has led the United States Health Department and Health Canada to release health advisories for PFOS and PFOA.

The maker of Post-Its, 3M, a primary manufacturer of PFOS, voluntarily began phasing out the use of the chemical in 2000. Eight additional product manufacturers followed suit in 2008, agreeing to completely eliminate using PFOS and PFOA by 2015.

In 2006, Canada made moves to address the issues of PFOS and PFOA in the environment. HealthCanada created a risk-management strategy which prohibited the production, use, sale and import of PFOS. The federal institution also encouraged the country’s major international trading partners to eliminate the use of PFOS in their products. By 2012, PFOS and PFOA were added to the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations.

However, since these chemicals do not easily break down, their long-lasting effects are still a concern for homes, the environment and water supplies in North America today.


What Can You Do?

Are you wondering how to test for PFAS in your drinking water? Contact your local Culligan Water Expert to find out if there are any contaminants in your water.

Testing your water can help you take the right steps towards providing your home and loved ones with cleaner and safer water.

Basic Water Testing
This option is free and takes less than 10 minutes in your home. We’ll discuss the results with you and go over your options for eliminating any contaminants that may be in your home’s water supply.

For PFAS testing, you can purchase a more comprehensive test:

Laboratory Water Analysis
Culligan’s lab test reveals harder-to-identify water problems. A water sample will be sent to our IL EPA-certified lab for in-depth analytical testing to see if there are any PFOS or PFOA in your water.

Immediately test the water in your home if you experience any of the following:

  • Water tastes “off”
  • Water is not clear
  • Water has an unpleasant odor
  • Water bills increase unexpectedly

Culligan Product Recommendations & Solutions

A top-performing water filtration system, such as the Culligan’s Aqua-Cleer® Advanced Drinking Water System, can help reduce contaminants in your water.

The system filters your water through five stages of targeted reverse osmosis to reduce harmful impurities like lead, arsenic, radium, aesthetic chlorine and hexavalent chromium (chromium-6). Enjoy cleaner, healthier water with the help of 13 advanced filter options that solve multiple water problems.

The Culligan Aqua-Cleer® Advanced Total Defense Cartridge is needed to reduce PFOA and PFOS. It offers the most comprehensive carbon filter and acts as a last line of defense. Culligan® Total Defense Cartridge is certified to remove contaminants in water, such as:

  • PFOS and PFOA
  • Mercury
  • MTBE’s (a flammable liquid)
  • VOC’s (Volatile Organic Chemical)

The Total Defense Cartridge also reduces the following:

  • Unpleasant taste and foul odor
  • Lead
  • Chlorine
  • Chloramine
  • Cyst
  • Nominal Particulate Class 1
  • Turbidity

You rely on clean water to power your home and nourish your family every day. Contact your local Culligan Water Expert for PFAS water testing. We can help make sure your water is better tasting and safer for your home and loved ones.