How Filters Can Remove PFAS from Drinking Water

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Episode Description

On this episode, we speak with Brian Donda, technical sales manager for The IAPMO Group, who will be discussing how certified water filters can effectively remove PFAS chemicals, otherwise known as per or polyfluorinated alcohol substances, and protect you and your loved ones from their negative impact.

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This episode is sponsored by QFlow B.V. (Netherlands) – offering innovative Legionella membrane filters to stop and help prevent legionellosis and more. Just because it’s clear, doesn’t mean it’s clean.

Christoph Lohr: The U.S. Geological Survey has found that at least 45% of the nation's tap water is estimated to have one or more types of chemicals known as per or polyfluorinated alcohol substances, otherwise known as PFAS. On today's podcast, I'll be speaking with Brian Donda, technical sales manager for The IAPMO Group, who will be discussing how certified water filters can effectively remove these dangerous compounds and protect you and your loved ones from their negative impact. Here's our discussion:

Brian, welcome to the podcast.

Brian Donda: Thanks for having me.

Christoph Lohr: I was super excited to have you and it should be a really interesting episode. I'm excited to learn a lot as in this episode we're going to be talking about how filters can remove PFAS from drinking water. For our listeners, PFAS or per or polyfluorinated alcohol — and Brian, you might have to correct me on how I'm saying it.

So per or polyfluorinated alcohol substances are harmful chemicals that contaminate our drinking water. Fixing water systems to reduce the risk to human health is a priority, but treatment solutions can be costly to communities and taxpayers. The good news is that certified water filters can effectively remove these dangerous compounds and protect you and your loved ones from their negative impact.

The key is to understanding the specific types of water filters and how they are or sometimes are not regulated to reduce PFAS in drinking water. So, with that, Brian, let me ask you this question: What are PFAS and how do they get in our drinking water?

Brian Donda: Well, PFAS are a group of chemicals. They're synthetic chemicals that have been used in various products throughout the world for many, many years.

And anything from non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, firefighting foams, stain resistant fabrics, even in some cosmetics and cleaning products.

Christoph Lohr: And how do they get into our drinking water then?

Brian Donda: Well, I'm assuming back in the day, but I, I don't know how it's discharged today, but back in the day, they were typically discharged into rivers or lakes, near facilities where they were making products or using products that contain PFAS.

So, airports, military installations, industrial sites, places like that.

Christoph Lohr: Gotcha. And I guess maybe one last sort of side question is we seem to be hearing a lot more about PFAS now in the water and the plumbing industry than we ever have before. I mean, I think right before the show, you're telling me you had just gone to the Water Quality Association conference and had a full track on it.

I mean, can you talk to us a little bit about why now? Why are we hearing so much about this now?

Brian Donda: I think it's because there's been a lot of research that's come out to the health effects side of it, and we're seeing that these chemicals that we thought were good chemicals or good products have actually had some very harmful effects on the human body via consumption.

You know, Teflon when it came out was a great thing. I can remember my mom had her favorite Teflon pan that she cooked everything in. Well come to find out that Teflon way back in the day contained PFAS. So, you know, it was in cooking products. So, I think we're starting to see and research and just through health effects and issues that people have had that PFAS has, you know, something to do with it.

Christoph Lohr: No, that makes a lot of sense. Well, let me ask this then: How do you know if you have unsafe levels of PFAS in your drinking water?

Brian Donda: Well, it's tough because, you know, a lot of consumers aren't going to have a product that can test these, you know, at the tap or something like that. But the best way to know if it's in your municipality is to check out their consumer confidence report that they send to you on a regular basis.

Those chemicals should be reported along with the levels that they're at in the local water at the municipal site.

[Editor’s note: Based on state and local regulations, not all jurisdictions track and report PFAS.]

Christoph Lohr: And then how bad is PFAS in the drinking water in the U.S.? I mean, what are the potential long-term health risks associated with exposure to PFAS in our drinking water?

Brian Donda: Well, it's definitely a concern across the entire U.S..

Like I said, you know, we're finding that this stuff has been in so many different products that we've owned and used throughout life, but the U.S. EPA is focusing a ton of time and effort on research and testing. They're coming up with policies and administering policies that reduce the levels allowed in drinking water.

Some of the health effects have been high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, causes birth defects, weakened child immunity. It's also been linked to kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer. So, it's definitely something that, you know, it's got some small effects, like cholesterol levels aren't that crazy. High blood pressure's not going to kill you. But, you know, you start to talk about these cancers and child immunity being weakened and stuff like that. It obviously raises some serious health concerns.

Christoph Lohr: So, it does sound like there are some filters that can remove PFAS from drinking water. Then how do they work? How effective are they?

Brian Donda: Some are quite effective. Some are a little bit less effective. It really depends on flow rates and the concentration of the chemicals in the water. So specialty ion exchange medias activated carbons, those technologies. They attract the chemicals to the media.

Ion exchange is kind of a chemical reaction where activated carbon is a little bit different, but what they do is they attract these chemicals to them and it holds them onto the media, keeping it from flowing downstream into the drinking water. There are also reverse osmosis membranes. These are typically geared more toward residential use. They do have some larger systems, as well, but this technology uses a membrane sheet with microscopic pores that separate these chemicals from the drinking water. And what it does is it sends the good water to the tap and then the wastewater goes, continues down the waste.

Christoph Lohr: How does someone know if a given filter will really move PFAS from drinking water? Is there any regulations to ensure that they reduce PFAS in drinking water that you're aware of?

Brian Donda: Yeah. There's no state or anywhere or government entity that's going to require this, but many companies have reached out to certification agencies — IAPMO, NSF, WQA — and they're getting their products tested and certified for PFAS removal.

Christoph Lohr: So, when they're being tested, how are they being tested to know that they perform well?

Brian Donda: There's specific standards out there that are geared toward drinking water and PFAS removal. So, these standards have kind of stringent requirements where there are tests with high levels of the contaminant at specified flow rates to a specific capacity that the filter's going to want to claim.

And the standards require that these products reduce or remove a certain amount of that contaminant before it can pass the testing and receive the certification.

Christoph Lohr: That's good to know. Definitely something for our listeners, depending on what state they're in to be aware of. What about ongoing maintenance? Once you install them, how do you know if you're still protected or not?

Brian Donda: These products, you know, if they're tested and certified and they have a capacity and a flow rate, these manufacturers with the certification are also required to have what's called a performance data sheet or some kind of a label or marking on the product or in the manual that says, “This product reduces or removes said chemical to a certain point, and after then you should replace it.”

So, I always say, look at the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. Replace the filters as stated in the manual. They do have a capacity. You should not go past that capacity because then the efficacy of the filter does drop.

Christoph Lohr: The same filters that are removing PFAS from drinking water, can they remove other threats or contaminants from our drinking water as well?

Brian Donda: Yeah, a lot of these technologies are used to reduce or remove numerous other contaminants from drinking water. The problem is if they're not tested and certified, there's really no way to know. There are specific ways that you have to make these products or make these filters, or treat these medias, that's going to make them even more effective at reducing other chemicals.

So, even though a lot of these products are using some or all of the same technologies, I always recommend looking for certification on the specific chemicals that you're looking at reducing or removing.

Christoph Lohr: Alright. Last question, the next time we have you on the podcast — because I absolutely would love to have you on the podcast again — what do you think we're going be talking about in terms of PFAS?

Brian Donda: Hopefully we'll have some solutions. You know, the U.S. EPA right now is working and there are several states that their local governments are also working and trying to figure out what the right level is for this. You know, what is okay for consumption because not everything is so bad, right?

We figured out with BPAA and other contaminants that there's specific things that lead to the human consumption that makes it harmful, right? So, is there a proper level? Is there a low enough level for these chemicals that we still can consume that's not going to break the bank on municipalities or break the bank with these manufacturers making these products?

So, hopefully the next time we talk about this we'll have an idea of what those levels are, what those limits are, and hopefully there'll be something across the United States, maybe in the whole world. We'll see. We'll see you where this takes us.

Christoph Lohr: I love it, Brian. Well, on behalf of Authority Podcast, Plumbing and Mechanical, just thanks for taking time out of your schedule to make yourself available to us and sharing what you've learned with us and on the podcast. I've certainly got a lot to chew on here and think about, as well, and hope to have you on here in the near future again.

Brian Donda: Absolutely, happy to do it. Thank you.