Do you want to know if your drinking water is safe?
PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that cause a wide variety of health risks including cancer. There are several PFAS test methods you can use to see if your water is safe to drink. We tested several DIY kits that allow people to test their drinking water.
You’ll learn which testing method works best for your needs and how to do it yourself at home with the help of this guide!
I used 4 different PFAS test kits to sample my own tap water to see how they compare. The results were pretty surprising!
In this article, I’ll review each test kit and share the results they reported for my drinking water so that you’ll have all the information you need to test for PFAS in your own drinking water!
Table of Contents
What is PFAS
PFAS stands for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances”, which is a broad class of synthetic chemicals that fall under the umbrella term of “emerging contaminants”. PFAS were developed by chemical companies in the mid-20th century, and they’re used in a variety of products including food wrappers, waxes for paper products like pizza boxes, carpets, nonstick cookware (think Teflon), firefighting foams at military bases…the list goes on!
PFAS are so widely used because they’re highly effective in repelling oil, water and stains. They also resist heat – which is why they’re used in the manufacturing of things like nonstick cookware. These chemicals can also be found at military bases where firefighting foams containing them were used for training exercises involving fires or aircraft crashes.
But when it comes to your drinking water, PFAS are more of a headache than they’re worth. These chemicals don’t break down easily in the environment – meaning that once it’s released into waterways like rivers and lakes (and eventually groundwater), PFAS can accumulate over time to dangerous levels. Once it’s in the environment, PFAS can get into drinking water through various means.
Health risks from PFAS
These chemicals are known to harm our health. Several studies link them to cancer, hormone disruption, thyroid disease … the list of health problems goes on. For these reasons, PFAS compounds are currently being phased out of production and use.
But as we know, chemicals like PFAS don’t just disappear once they’re banned – they remain in the environment for a long time! For this reason, it’s very important that we find ways to monitor these contaminants so that we can prevent further contamination and protect our health.
Why You Should Test Your Drinking Water for PFAS
Why test for PFAS in drinking water? There are numerous benefits to testing your drinking water for these contaminants. The most important reason may be the health implications from exposure, but there are other reasons, too!
If you’re like most Americans (in fact, recent statistics show that 95% of us drink public water), then you may be consuming PFAS through your drinking water without even knowing it.
Why? Because so far, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only set a “health advisory” for two of these compounds – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). This means that the EPA has determined that the two compounds are hazardous to human health at levels above 70 parts per trillion (ppt), but they haven’t set legally enforceable limits yet.
So what does this mean for you? It means that if your water contains PFAS, you and your family may be at risk. But if you test your drinking water, then you can take steps to protect yourself from exposure to these forever chemicals!
PFAS Testing Methods
There are three U.S. EPA testing methodologies and one ASTM method for analyzing drinking water to detect the presence of PFAS compounds. Each method detects the presence of varying numbers of PFAS compounds in drinking water.
- USEPA Method 537: This is an older method that is falling out of favor for testing drinking water. It is limited to 14 PFC compounds, and can’t detect some of the newer contaminants of concern.
- USEPA Method 537.1: This method detects 18 PFAS compounds and was updated in 2020.
- USEPA Method 533: This new drinking water method was developed for short-chain PFAS molecules. It includes a total of 25 PFAS compounds, including 14 of the 18 listed in EPA 537.1.
- ASTM D7979 with Isotopic Dilution: This method was developed for non-drinking water samples.
I realize presenting a list of test methods and the different compounds they test for is confusing. Despite the differences, all of these tests are good for testing your drinking water. They all test for PFOS and PFOA – the two most common contaminants and the two most harmful to your health.
Sampling Your Drinking Water for PFAS
If you want to check your drinking water for PFAS, there are a few options available to you.
- Local Board of Health – Some local health agencies analyze drinking water if you ask. This is most often done in large cities, but some rural health officials also sample drinking water.
- State Public Health / Environmental Agency – In many states, the public health agency or environmental agency sample drinking water in residences.
- Water Quality Consultant – You can hire a professional to sample your drinking water. Often, company’s that install and maintain treatment systems also provide this service for free or at discounted prices.
- Do It Yourself – Many laboratories and universities offer water quality testing services to homeowners. In some areas, this is the only option available. Most of these institutions will ship you a sampling kit and you return the samples to them for analysis.
This article is focused on the DIY method of sampling your drinking water.
PFAS Home Test Kits
Several laboratories and one major university have developed test kits for analyzing your drinking water for PFAS contamination. Not only can these tests detect the presence of PFAS in your drinking water, but they can also establish a baseline level for normal levels and help you monitor whether your tap water is getting safer over time.
Here are the four test kits that you can purchase to assess you home’s drinking water.
PFAS drinking water test #1 – Tap Score
The University of California, Berkeley-based firm SimpleLab is a health services firm that provide home water testing for consumers. They call their drinking water testing service Tap Score.
SimpleLab offers a water health analysis with each Tap Score report. This report includes an evaluation of the health risks that your drinking water poses to your family’s health. This is a great service because they explain to you, in simple to understand terms, exactly what’s in your water and whether or not it might be harming your health.
Read my Complete Review of the Tap Score report for more information.
PFAS drinking water test #2 – Cyclopure
Cyclopure is a global leader in the science of targeted micropollutant removal. They pioneered one way to safely remove contaminants like PFAS from drinking water using cyclodextrin-based polymer adsorbents.
They developed a PFAS sample kit – Water Test Kit Pro – that tests for 17 fluorinated compounds for only $79. This is the lowest priced test I was able to find. And they analyze for the most compounds – 17 compared to 3 or 14 for the others.
I prepared a complete review of the Cyclopure PFAS test kit. Read it here.
PFAS drinking water test #3 – WaterCheck
WaterCheck is the brand of Ohio based National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. They offer a sample kit that tests for PFAS compounds in your drinking water.
This screening level tests analyzes your water for 3 PFAS molecules – perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). Although the test is limited to just 3 compounds, these are the worst of the worst in terms of health risks.
The $189 kit includes everything you need – sampling gloves, water vial, sampling instructions, and a pre-paid shipping label. The lab provides a complete report within 10 days of receiving your sample.
PFAS drinking water test #4 – Freshwater Future
The Test and Response Kit is provided by the University of Michigan Biological Station’s laboratory. They sell the PFAS test kit for $75 – which is very reasonable. They test for 14 PFAS compounds using EPA Method 537.1.
Unfortunately, they are not currently offering this service due to Covid.
Comparison of Compounds Identified in Report
Here is a summary of the individual compounds that each home test kit includes in their analytical report.
Table 1: Compounds Included in Analytical Report
|Perfluorobutanoic Acid (PFBA)||Yes||—||—||—|
|Perfluoropentanoic Acid (PFPeA)||Yes||—||—||—|
|Perfluorohexanoic Acid (PFHxA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluoroheptanoic Acid (PFHpA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Perfluorononanoic Acid (PFNA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorodecanoic Acid (PFDA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluoroundecanoic Acid (PFUnA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorododecanoic Acid (PFDoA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorotridecanoic Acid (PFTrDA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorotetradecanoic Acid (PFTeDA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorobutane Sulfonic Acid (PFBS)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Perfluorohexane Sulfonic Acid (PFHxS)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid (PFOS)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hexafluoropropylene Oxide Dimer Acid (HFPO-DA)||Yes||Yes||Yes||—|
|Total number of compounds||17||14||14||3|
PFAS drinking water sample collection method
There are two methods of collecting the water sample from your home drinking water supply.
- First Draw
- Fully Flushed
First Draw: Collect the sample before any water source has been turned on. You need for the water to have been stagnant in the pipes for at least 6 hours. A first draw sample gives you the complete picture about our water quality – it includes any issues with the water supply coming from the utility as well as your plumbing system. This is the best way to sample your drinking water because it gives you a worst case scenario.
Fully-flushed: Turn on the water at full flow, allow it to run for 5 minutes, then collect the sample. This sample is representative of the water quality coming directly from the source. Since the line has been purged, it primarily focuses on the water quality coming from the utility and not your plumbing.
Where should you collect the water sample from? For PFAS sampling, it doesn’t really matter where you collect the water from. All of the water comes from the same supply – either the city or your well.
Every dispenser in your home’s plumbing system has the same water in it. The only consideration is whether you have a treatment system in your home. If you want to know what’s coming in to your house, then sample some place upstream of the treatment unit. If you want to know how well your PFAS filter is performing, then sample downstream of the purifier.
Typical sampling locations
SimpleLab recommends one of the following sample collection locations:
- Kitchen Faucet This is typically the most accurate reflection of your exposure risk, as it is frequently used for drinking water.
- Wellhead or Other Source This test is useful in evaluating source water quality, but it won’t detect plumbing-related issues.
Where should you sample your water from if you have a filter?
If you want to know the raw, unfiltered water quality–collect the sample before it passes through the filter/softener. If If you want to find out the raw, unpolluted water quality of your tap water–take a sample before it goes through the filter or softener. If you want to evaluate the quality of your filtered water, collect a sample following the filter or softener.
Remember – if you want to know how your treatment system is performing, you need to collect two samples. One before the filter – this is the inlet (also known as raw water) concentration; and a second sample after the unit. This is the treated water sample.
What Do the Test Results Mean?
Once you have the full laboratory report with your results, what should you do? You can contact your local health department for their assistance.
Federal drinking water standard for PFAS
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for establishing drinking water standards to protect people from adverse health effects caused by contaminants in public water supplies. These standards limit the maximum concentrations of contaminants, and these values are enforceable under the law.
Despite the known hazards associated with PFAS compounds, there is no national drinking water standard for these forever chemicals. As shocking as this sounds, the EPA has not set a pfas action level for drinking water.
The EPA did, however, establish a lifetime health advisory (HA) level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two of these compounds – PFOS and PFOA. A health advisory level is only a guideline. It is the maximum concentration of a contaminant that EPA believes is not harmful to your health.
Health advisory levels cannot be enforced, and public water utilities are not required to follow them. Utilities report back to EPA their testing results. Fortunately, testing PFAS levels in water is now a common practice.
EPA set the maximum safe level for PFOS at 70 ppt and the maximum level for PFOA at 70 ppt. The EPA also limits the combined concentration of these two compounds to 70 ppt – add the PFOS and PFOA concentration together, and this total must be less than 70.
It is important to note that private wells are not regulated by the EPA or most states. Most private drinking water wells have not been tested, so it’s not possible to know the extent of contamination.
What does it mean that there is a health advisory level of 70 ppt? If the level of PFAS in your drinking water is less than 70 ppt, EPA says you can drink it without any health risks.
This isn’t very comforting, and many health experts argue that this level does not provide adequate water protection for the public.
State drinking water standards for PFAS
Several states have established their own drinking water standards for PFAS compounds. Many of these states set their drinking water standard lower than the limits EPA published. The goal is for EPA to have a finished drinking water program.
Not every state has a PFAS drinking water standard. Here is a summary of six states and their highlighted action levels for these forever chemicals.
- Connecticut PFAS standard – 70 ppt: Connecticut uses the EPA’s HA level of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS. They also established a drinking water action level that limits the concentration five PFAS chemicals to 70 ppt. These five compounds are PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFHpA.
- New York PFAS standard – 10 ppt: New York established conservative drinking water standards for PFOA (10 ppt) and PFOS (10 ppt).
- New Jersey PFAS standard – 13 ppt: New Jersey was the first state to regulate PFAS in drinking water. They established MCLs for PFNA (13 ppt), PFOA (14 ppt) and PFOS (13 ppt).
- Massachusetts PFAS standard – 20 ppt: Massachusetts created a PFAS public drinking water standard of 20 ppt for 5 PFAS compounds – PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. This limit applies to the concentration an an individual chemical or for the sum of all 5.
- Minnesota PFAS standard – 15 ppt: Minnesota established health-based guidance values for PFAS compounds. PFOS (15 ppt), PFOA (35 ppt), PFHxS (47 ppt), PFBS (2,000 ppt), and PFBA (7,000 ppt).
- California PFAS standard – 5.1 ppt: California established notification level (NL) for PFOS (6.5 ppt) and PFOA (5.1 ppt).
Testing results for Maine
Maine has conducted testing of both groundwater, surface water, and potable wells for PFAS contamination. Their PFAS testing program revealed extensive contamination across the state. Based on this, Maine developed an action plan to help local communities address this growing problem.