PFAS – Prevalent and Persistent Pollution 

Per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of over 4,500 manufactured fluorine chain chemicals that are used in a wide variety of non-stick, heat, stain and oil resistant products. Common applications and products containing PFAS include non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste and floss, paint, pesticides, and firefighting foams. 

Due to the extensive use, PFAS compounds have been observed in groundwater and drinking water supplies, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and humans throughout the United States and world. Due to the many carbon to fluorine bonds, one of the strongest bonds in nature, these compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years. Compounding this prevalence and persistence is the fact that the amounts are increasing in the environment, some food products and animals, a process known as bioaccumulation, and as the use of PFAS containing products increase, the amount in surface and groundwater accumulate. 

The source of PFAS in humans is from food, dust and drinking water, with recent studies showing that the contribution from drinking water is as high as 90%. The effect on human health has been researched only on a dozen or less PFAS compounds including PFOA and PFOS, the most widely used PFAS compounds. 

Exposure to these two chemicals have been attributed to significant health risks including increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight. PFOA and PFOS were phased out by the mid 2000’s, and concentrations in humans have decreased slightly since then. However, many more PFAS are being used and produced and there remains a significant gap of knowledge on the environmental and human health effects of other PFAS compounds.

PFAS concentrations in drinking water tend to be greater near manufacturing plants, military bases and airports were firefighting foam is used. The EPA has issued a health advisory (not a regulation) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for drinking water, whereas Europe and several US states have imposed more stringent limits of PFAS in drinking water. 

Even though our knowledge of the extent of risks of all PFAS compounds is very limited, the good news is that several filtration systems have been shown to be effective in removing many PFAS contaminants. These include activated carbon (10-97% removal), ion exchange (90-99% removal) and reverse osmosis (93-99% removal). These filters can be installed in homes to treat either the entire home (point of entry, POE), or point of use (POU) typically installed under the sink for drinking and cooking use. 

In addition to treating our drinking water, we can all be better stewards by the choices we make. Proper recycling and disposal of unwanted household goods and products may help contain some PFAS. Investing in learning what products contain PFAS could help in making better product choices, but unfortunately, only broad product categories, as described earlier, are published. Whether a specific product contains PFAS is not readily available since no labeling requirement exists currently. More info on PFAS can be found at: CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html; EPA: https://www.epa.gov/pfas; and MDE: https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Water/water_supply/Pages/PFAS_Home.aspx   


  • PFAS compounds are very resistant to breakdown and therefore persist in the environment, giving rise to the term “forever” chemicals.
  • Studies have shown that over 95% of people in the US have measurable amounts of PFAS in their bodies, with certain PFAS compounds remaining in the body for 4-8 years.
  • Health risks include increased risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, hormonal changes and decreased fertility, thyroid disruption and low birth weight.

Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters: http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp.

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Fluoride in Drinking Water? 

Fluoride was originally added to public drinking water in the 1950s as a way to reduce dental cavities or tooth decay. There are some natural water supplies that contain fluoride, and public utilities will test to determine if removal or addition is warranted. 

The American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and others supported this effort then and still do today. The Environmental Protection Agency established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 4 mg/l or ppm and most utilities will add fluoride at 0.5 – 1.5 mg/l. 

In the years since initiation of fluoridation, there have been numerous studies which have investigated the potential health impacts associated with fluoride. Several studies have shown a link of ingested fluoride with an increase of dental and skeletal fluorosis (staining or pitting of teeth in children, or bone weakness), cognitive impairment, hypothyroidism, enzyme and electrolyte derangement, and uterine cancer. However, the American Cancer Society recently has stated that research has not shown a link of fluoride and cancer. 

Concentrations of fluoride in these studies varied, but some show a link to health effects at levels of 1-2 mg/l, well below the EPA MCL. The Department of Health and Human Service has recommended an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams per liter is set to promote public health benefits of fluoride for preventing tooth decay while minimizing the chance for dental fluorosis and other health issues. 

Currently the EPA is reviewing the new risk assessment of fluoride to determine whether to revise the drinking water standard. 

Given the increasing concern over potential health impacts with fluoridated water, there are efforts by various groups to lobby for utilities to stop adding fluoride to drinking water. One argument used is that since the use of fluoridated toothpaste and other topical products, which have been shown to be more effective than a water source, fluoridation is no longer warranted, especially given the potential harm to certain individuals or populations. In recent years, over 75 cities have stopped adding fluoride to their drinking water supply. Further the U.S. Public Health Service has lowered its recommended level of fluoride in drinking water. 

If you are concerned about fluoride in your drinking water, check with your public water utility. An annual Consumer Confidence Report is available and will inform you of the amount of fluoride in the water supply. If you are using a private well, you can have your water tested. There are several filters that will remove fluoride including anion exchange, activated alumina, and the most common is reverse osmosis which can be installed under the sink to treat your drinking water. 

For more information on water quality and testing, check out our website.

Home Maintenance for Your Health

Maintaining your home and appliances helps them last longer, perform better, and keep their value. However, did you know following maintenance practices is also good for your family’s health? 

Let’s consider those things in the home that can influence our health. 

Keeping a clean home can reduce dust, dust mites, pet dander, bacteria, mold, and mildew. This is especially important for those that have allergies or asthma. Many of our appliances (vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc.) have filters designed to capture various contaminants.

As with any filter, including those associated with your home’s HVAC system, they have to be changed regularly to function effectively. Not changing them can lead to reduction in performance and potentially lifespan, but also, harmful contaminants can no longer be trapped and are thus released into the air and environment of the interior of your home. 

Water filters in particular, can potentially build up bacteria if filters are not changed as recommended. If you have a faucet filtration system for the whole house, as opposed to a single unit on one faucet, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

If you are like me, you may forget when you last changed a filter or when it’s supposed to be replaced. I remember to change the smoke or carbon monoxide alarm batteries when daylight savings time begins, but may forget other appliances. To help me with keeping on a good maintenance schedule, I started writing the date of the changeover directly on the filters. 

I also put reminders and certain maintenance items, such as heating and air conditioning service, or flush my tankless water heater, on my phone calendar and set reminders. You can even include things like having your septic tank pumped every two or three years.

Finding a way or system for you to remember and getting into the habit of home maintenance will help provide peace of mind that you are not only protecting value, but also providing a healthy environment for you and your family.  

Bottled or Tap

“What will you have – bottled or tap?” It’s not the most common question but one we probably have heard or asked ourselves. In today’s more health conscious society, we know we should stay hydrated and aim for drinking at least eight 12-ounce glasses per day, but have you ever stopped to think  what type of water you should be drinking? Is tap better than bottled? 

A glass of water macro shot

After the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., we may all question how good our tap water is. Adding to the confusion is the vast choices of bottled water: Artesian, distilled, mineral, purified, spring, mineral, as well as several different brands. How healthy each of these waters are and how do you know which to choose? 

Fortunately, there are water quality regulations in place for both public and municipal water supply, and for bottled water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Safe Drinking Water Act, regulates public water and delegates each state to oversee water supplies and treatment. The EPA requires each public water supplier to provide annual Consumer Confidence Reports to customers. If you have not seen one, contact your water supplier. 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the quality of bottled water and states that it must at least equal the quality of tap water. Some states place additional quality requirements on bottled water companies. Also, the International Bottled Water Association requires its 640 members to follow their code of practices. 

Man having an outdoor showerFor both public water and bottled water in the U.S., water is tested for 90+ contaminants and is treated for these if observed. This includes treatment for nutrients, chemicals, bacteria and viruses. Bottled water companies are required to include a nutritional label, which provides mineral content information. Companies often provide contact information on the label for you to learn more about the quality of water. 

Homeowners are able to opt for additional water filtration in their home to remove the chlorine taste if present. This filtration, such as a faucet or under sink unit, will also remove many other contaminants if present. 

Bottled water types vary by their source or type treatment used: 

  • Distilled water is typically a public supply water that is boiled and the steam condenses into a pure form of water. It typically has very little taste due to the lack of minerals. 
  • Purified water is also a public water source that undergoes treatment such as reverse osmosis to remove contaminants, and ozonation to kill bacteria. 
  • Artesian and spring water is groundwater from aquifers under pressure allowing water to come to surface. The composition of this water will vary depending on the type of geology within the aquifer. Treatment is also used for spring water however many of the minerals are retained. 
  • Mineral water is just that, water that contains either natural or added minerals, and will have a distinct taste in comparison with other waters. Note if you are concerned about sodium in your diet, read the mineral water label, as they may be a significant source of sodium. 
  • The sparkling water that has become popular can be any of the types mentioned earlier just with carbonation added and perhaps other flavoring. 

Given all these choices, convenience and taste preference often drives what we drink. Regardless of the type, bottled or tap, it is still a good idea to find out more about the water you drink to support the choice you make.

To Test or Not to Test … Your Drinking Water

The quantity and quality of water you drink is important to your health, but what do you really know about your water quality, and do you need to treat it?

Side view of elderly woman drinking water

I often get asked “should I treat my water?” Not to be vague, but more to get homeowners thinking, I respond, “it depends on the quality, and the only way to know is to test the water.”

As mentioned in my last post, if you are on a public water supply, it is regulated by EPA, and your water utility is regularly testing the quality for about 95 contaminants. Further, annual consumer confidence reports are available from your water utility describing the water quality. Check out the report and become informed about your water supply and quality!

**Note, the contaminant lead does not come from the water source, rather leaches from household plumbing (pipe and fixtures) if you have older metal plumbing and your water is low in pH and has elevated chloride. If this is the case for your home, testing for lead is recommended.

A glass of water macro shotIf water comes from a private well, the homeowner is responsible for testing and treating the water. So back to the question of treating or not treating. How do you know what to treat for if you do not know the quality? If you have not tested your well water, contact your local county health department and ask for what to test for and get a list of certified labs that you can send your water samples to (these labs will provide complete sampling equipment and instructions).

Testing for coliform bacteria, E. coli, chloride, copper, hardness, nitrate, pH, lead, manganese, total dissolved solids, sulfates and any local contaminant (check with health department) is suggested every three years. Annual testing for coliform bacteria, E. coli and nitrates to ensure there is no contamination from animal waste is recommended. EPA Water FilterOnly with the test results will you know whether treatment is necessary.

The good news is that if one or more of the results is above the EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL), there are several types of filtration available to get water within the safe drinking levels. Filtration can be expensive to buy and maintain, so it makes sense to install only the filtration needed. Filtration units may need only be installed on the faucet that supplies your drinking or cooking water. Other systems treat the entire house as with a water softener to reduce hardness or a reverse osmosis system to reduce salt and other contaminants.

To maintain the effectiveness of the filtration and water quality is critical to follow the recommended maintenance including changing filters. Several online drinking water tools can help determine what treatment system is recommended based on your water quality. Check out https://www4.des.state.nh.us/DWITool/Welcome.aspx  and http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp for more information.

Invest in your health and get to know your drinking water quality!