Cleaning Public Water From Harmful PFAS Chemicals Costs Billions, Here’s How to Filter at Home.

Cleaning Public Water From Harmful PFAS Chemicals Costs Billions, Here’s How to Filter at Home.

For decades, Americans have enjoyed the convenience of countless products boasting stain and water resistance, non-stick properties, and fire retardancy. Little did we know, these seemingly harmless features often came at a hidden cost – the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," in our drinking water. PFAS are a large group of man-made chemicals known for their extreme persistence in the environment and human body. Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimate that nearly half of all tap water in the United States contains PFAS contamination.

The growing awareness of PFAS health risks and their prevalence in public water systems has sparked a national conversation. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently established new regulations for PFAS in drinking water, the projected costs of implementing these changes are staggering.

Removing PFAS will cost billions per year

The recent EPA action establishing the first federal drinking water standards for PFAS is a significant development. These near-invisible contaminants, detectable in our blood and many public water supplies, necessitate this regulatory step. The established maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for individual PFAS like PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA and GenX, ranging from 4 to 10 parts per trillion, highlight the extreme potency of these chemicals.

Chemical Maximum Contaminant Level Goal Maximum Contaminant Level
PFOA 0 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt)
PFOS 0 4.0 ppt
PFNA 10 ppt 10 ppt
PFHxS 10 ppt 10 ppt
HFPO-DA 10 ppt 10 ppt
Mixture HI of 1 unitless HI of 1 unitless

PFAS comprise 29 out of the 30 chosen contaminants for this round of testing. This program provides valuable insights into the spatial distribution and prevalence of PFAS within our water infrastructure.

So far, the EPA has collected over 22,500 samples from roughly 3,800 of the estimated 154,000 public water systems across the US. Analysis of these samples revealed concerning results:

  • 22% of tested systems: contained at least one type of PFAS exceeding the newly established health standards.

  • 16% of tested systems: exceeded the new PFAS limits altogether.

The data also suggests a geographical trend, with eastern states exhibiting a higher percentage of systems exceeding the PFAS standards.

The new regulations require all public water systems to complete PFAS monitoring by 2027 and make the data public. Systems exceeding the health benchmarks will face a tight deadline to install treatment by 2029. This highlights the urgency of addressing PFAS contamination in our drinking water supplies.

PFAS and Public Health

PFAS are a diverse group of over 5,000 chemicals with a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. They are found in everything from non-stick cookware and stain repellents to firefighting foams and food packaging. The very properties that make PFAS so useful – their strong carbon-fluorine bonds – also contribute to their environmental persistence. These chemicals don't readily break down and can accumulate in our bodies over time.

Studies have linked PFAS exposure to a variety of health problems, including certain cancers, immune system deficiencies, thyroid issues, and developmental problems in children. The exact health effects vary depending on the specific type of PFAS and the level of exposure. However, the growing body of evidence has raised serious concerns about the long-term health implications of consuming PFAS-contaminated water.

PFAS levels in US drinking water

Chemical Average Lower Higher Standard
PFOS 11 4 19 4
PFOA 8 4 15 4
HFPO-DA 9 6 14 10
PFHxS 7 3 12 10
PFNA 8 4 16 10

According to the EPA, the annual cost for public water systems to comply with the new PFAS regulations could be around $1.5 billion. However, other estimates suggest the true cost may be much higher. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates the yearly cost for removing just two types of PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) could exceed $3.8 billion. These figures only account for treatment and testing – the cost of infrastructure upgrades and disposal of captured PFAS is not yet fully factored in.

In 2023, 3M, a major producer of PFAS products, agreed to a settlement that could provide $10.5 billion to $12.5 billion to public water systems for PFAS testing and treatment. This financial assistance is a crucial step towards ensuring cleaner water for all Americans.

The high cost of PFAS removal raises concerns about affordability for water utilities and ultimately, consumers. Water treatment plants may need to pass on these costs to residents through increased water bills. Additionally, some smaller communities may struggle to shoulder the financial burden of implementing new treatment technologies.

Also Read: Is North Carolina Tap Water Safe To Drink?

Financial Assistance and Regulatory Developments

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (2021): This landmark legislation allocated $4 billion to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and $5 billion through the EPA's Emerging Contaminant in Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program to support water infrastructure improvements, including PFAS treatment.

The EPA proposed the first-ever national drinking water regulations for certain PFAS variants in May 2023. These regulations aim to set enforceable limits for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals, and PFBS in public water supplies.

At-Home Filtration Options

Given the potential delays in widespread PFAS removal from public water systems, many individuals are seeking solutions for filtering PFAS out of their drinking water at home. Fortunately, several filtration options can effectively reduce PFAS levels, although each has its own advantages and limitations.

  1. Activated Carbon Filters: These filters are widely available and relatively inexpensive. They work by absorbing contaminants, including some types of PFAS, onto the surface of the carbon granules. However, activated carbon filters may not be effective for all types of PFAS, and their effectiveness can diminish over time as the carbon becomes saturated with contaminants.

  2. Ion Exchange Filters: Similar to the technology used in water softeners, ion exchange filters utilize a resin that captures charged particles, including some PFAS. These filters can be more effective at removing PFAS than activated carbon filters, but they also require periodic regeneration to maintain their performance.

  3. Reverse Osmosis Systems: This technology utilizes a semipermeable membrane that allows water molecules to pass through while blocking larger contaminants, including most PFAS. Reverse osmosis systems are generally considered the most effective at-home filtration option for removing PFAS. However, they are also the most expensive and can waste a significant amount of water during the filtration process.

Choosing the Right Filter

Investing in a home water filter, it's important to consider several factors. First, it's crucial to determine the specific types of PFAS present in your local water supply. This information can often be obtained from your water utility provider's website or annual water quality report. Knowing the specific PFAS contaminants will help you choose a filter that is most effective for your needs.

Consider your budget and water usage habits. Activated carbon filters are the most affordable option, but their effectiveness can vary. Ion exchange filters offer improved performance but require maintenance. Reverse osmosis systems are the most effective but also the most expensive and water-intensive.

Think about the ease of use and maintenance of different filtration systems. Some filters require frequent replacement cartridges, while others need periodic regeneration. Choose a system that fits your comfort level with maintenance tasks.

Checkout Berkey Water Filters, remove over 99.9% of PFAS

berkey water filter countertop




Crown Berkey Water Filter

6 Gallons (22.7 L)


Imperial Berkey Water Filter

4.5 Gallons (17 litres)


Royal Berkey Water Filter

3.25 Gallons (12.3 L)


Berkey Light Water Filter

2.75 Gallons (10.4 L)


Big Berkey Gravity-Fed Water Filter

2.25 Gallons (8.5 L)


Travel Berkey

1.5 Gallons (5.7 liters)


Black Berkey Replacement Elements


Also Read: Buyer Beware: Counterfeit Berkey Filters

Considerations for Homeowners

The Environmental Working Group (EWG): The EWG offers a searchable database of home water filters certified to remove specific PFAS contaminants.

NSF International: NSF International is a non-profit organization that sets standards for drinking water products. Look for filters certified by NSF International under NSF Standard 58 or P473 to ensure they meet specific PFAS reduction requirements .

PFAS-Free Future

The issue of PFAS contamination in public water supplies is a complex one with no easy solutions. While the EPA's new regulations are a step in the right direction, the high cost of implementing them presents a significant challenge. At-home filtration offers a potential stopgap measure for individuals concerned about PFAS exposure, but it's not a long-term solution for ensuring safe drinking water for all.

The path forward requires a collaborative effort. The government, water utilities, manufacturers, and research institutions need to work together to develop cost-effective treatment technologies for PFAS removal. Additionally, exploring alternative materials that don't rely on PFAS for industrial processes is crucial to prevent future contamination.

Consumers also play a role by staying informed about PFAS and advocating for clean water. By supporting legislation that promotes PFAS research and regulation, individuals can contribute to a PFAS-free future.


The presence of PFAS in public water supplies presents a significant challenge to public health and water infrastructure. While the EPA's new regulations are a step in the right direction, the high cost of PFAS removal creates a burden for both water utilities and consumers. At-home filtration options offer a temporary solution for individuals seeking to reduce their exposure, but these solutions come with their own limitations.

Back to blog

Leave a comment