a photo collage of PFA sources

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), most commonly known as the "forever chemicals", are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. These chemicals do not break down in the environment as well as in the human body.

Based on recent data, major cities have been affected by an increase of PFA levels on their water. How do you combat the increasing threat on your water health?

Understanding PFAs

What are PFAs? PFAs are a group of synthetic chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. These are being utilized in a variety of products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

The widespread use of PFAs and their resistance to degradation concludes that they can persist in the environment and in human bodies for extended periods. Studies show that they can cause significant health problems to high levels of certain PFAs, including:

  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Hormone disruption
  • Immune system problems
  • Developmental delays in children

Cities with High Levels of PFAs include, but are not limited to:

  • Areas near industrial sites, military bases, and airports where firefighting foam containing PFAs has been used extensively.
  • Communities near manufacturing plants that have used PFAs in production processes.

How to Find Out if Your City Has High PFA Levels?

The first step in addressing PFA contamination is to determine whether it is present in your local water supply. Here are several ways you can find this information:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Reports: The EPA conducts tests on water supplies across the country and publishes findings on various contaminants, including PFAs. Their reports can be accessed online and provide detailed information about the levels of PFAs found in water systems nationwide. Read more on their current PFA Commitment Roadmap.
  2. Local Water Quality Reports: Water providers are required to issue annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) which detail the quality of the local drinking water, including the presence of PFAs and other contaminants. These reports are usually mailed to consumers and are also available on local water providers’ websites.
  3. State Health Departments: Many state health departments have resources dedicated to PFAs, providing information on local studies, affected areas, and health advisories.
  4. Third-Party Testing: If you're still unsure or want a more detailed analysis, consider hiring a professional to test the water in your home. You can also purchase home testing kits specifically designed to detect PFAs.

It is important to take proactive steps to lessen exposure to PFAs once confirming their presence in your water sources. Reducing exposure to these forever chemicals can decrease the risk of health issues and keep vulnerable populations safe from their long-term effects.

The best way to remove PFAs from your water is through Reverse Osmosis Systems. But, how do they actually work?

How Reverse Osmosis Systems Work

Reverse Osmosis is a water purification process that uses a semi-permeable membrane to remove ions, unwanted molecules, and larger particles from drinking water. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of the process:

reverse osmosis semi permeable membrane
  1. Pre-filtration: Water first passes through several filters that are designed to filter sediments and reduce chlorine that can damage the RO membrane. Some of the filters also have activated carbon that filters VOCs, removes bad odor and improves the water's taste.
  2. Reverse Osmosis Membrane: It is the core of the system where the majority of the purification happens. It functions like a kidney that filters toxic wastes from the body. With the help of ample incoming water pressure, water is forced through a thin membrane that blocks contaminants but allows water molecules to pass through. 
  3. Post-filtration: After passing through the membrane, the water flows through a post-filter to polish it before it comes out of the faucet. Most reverse osmosis systems also include extra layers of filters such as the Alkaline Filter for remineralization and the UV Filter for sterilization.
  4. Storage Tank: Purified water is stored in a tank until needed. When you turn on your RO faucet, water comes from this tank.
  5. Drain Line: All the waste water which includes the contaminants and impurities collected and concentrated in the filtering process are flushed away into the drain.

Benefits of Using an RO System to Combat PFAs

RO systems are particularly effective in removing PFAs due to their fine filtration capability. Some of their benefits include:

  • High Efficiency: RO systems can remove up to 99% of dissolved salts (ions), particles, colloids, organics, bacteria, and pyrogens from the water (though they are not effective against all microorganisms).
  • Improved Taste and Odor: As RO systems remove impurities, it also improve the taste and odor of water, making it more pleasant to drink.
  • Cost-Effective: Although there is an initial investment, compared to buying bottled water, RO systems are cost-effective in the long run.
  • Environmentally Friendly: They reduce the need for bottled water, therefore decreasing plastic waste.


Choosing the Right RO System

When it comes to selecting a Reverse Osmosis system it is important to consider your specific needs and the features of the system for effective use. Here are some key factors to think about: 

  1. Multiple Filtration Stages: The number of stages in an RO system can vary, typically ranging from three to seven stages. Systems with more stages can provide additional levels of filtration, such as sediment filters, carbon filters, and remineralization stages which enhance the taste and add back beneficial minerals.
  2. NSF Certifications: Look for systems that have NSF/ANSI certifications, particularly NSF/ANSI Standard 58 for reverse osmosis systems. This certification ensures that the system is capable of reducing specific contaminants, including PFAs, as claimed by the manufacturer. 
  3. Daily Filtration Capacity: Consider the daily filtration capacity of the system, which should match your household water usage. Systems can vary widely in how many gallons they can filter per day.
  4. Efficiency and Waste Water Ratio: RO systems produce waste water during the filtration process. Efficient systems have a lower waste to clean water ratio, which means they are both more environmentally friendly and cost-effective in the long run.
  5. Size and Installation Requirements: Depending on where you plan to install the RO system, size could be a significant factor. Ensure the system fits in your designated space and assess if you need professional installation or if it is a DIY-friendly model. A variety of system are designed for under sink installation and may come with a tank or a tankless design. Some systems also are suitable to your countertop.
  6. Maintenance and Filter Replacement: Consider the ease of maintenance and the frequency of filter replacement. Systems that offer easy-to-replace filters can save time and ensure consistent water quality. NU Aqua offers a hassle free Filter Club Subscription that allows your filter replacements to be always delivered on time just when you need them.

Top RO Systems from NU Aqua

NU Aqua offers several RO systems that are highly effective at removing PFAs and other contaminants. Here are a few top models:

Each of these systems is designed to meet different needs and preferences, offering reliable protection against PFAs and improving the overall quality of your drinking water.

Installation and Maintenance

Installing an RO system can vary in complexity. Some systems are designed for easy DIY installation, while others might require professional assistance, especially if modifications to plumbing are needed. Regular maintenance, primarily consisting of filter changes, is crucial to keep the system operating effectively. Most systems require filter changes every 6 to 12 months. Depending on usage and water quality, some filters may need to be replaced earlier or can work longer.

Here’s a general guide on how to install and maintain your RO system, focusing on practical tips that can help you get the most out of your investment.

Installation of an RO System

  1. Choose the Right Location: Most RO systems are installed under the kitchen sink, but they can also be installed in a basement or utility room if connected properly to your sink with tubing. Ensure there is enough space to accommodate the system and allow for easy access for maintenance. If installed in a basement or utility room, make sure to check the distance to the reverse osmosis faucet as it may affect the system performance. Most systems can only support a distance of up to 15 feet.
  2. Install the Faucet: Begin by installing the RO faucet on your sink. Most systems come with specifically designed RO faucets of their own. This may require drilling a hole in your sink or countertop if one is not already present.
  3. Connect to Water Supply: Connect the system to your cold water line. Most systems come with a saddle valve, a feed water adapter, or a T-connector to make this process straightforward.
  4. Install the Pre-filters and Membrane: Insert the pre-filters and RO membrane according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure each component is securely in place.
  5. Connect the Drain Line: Attach the drain line from the RO system to your sink’s drain pipe. This line will carry away the wastewater containing the contaminants removed from your drinking water. Read more on RO System Drain on a Single Drain Sink.
  6. Check for Leaks: Once everything is connected, turn on the water and check all connections for leaks. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure all fittings are tight and secure.
  7. Flush the System: Initially, you'll need to flush the system to clear out any preservatives from the RO membrane. This typically involves running the system for a few hours and discarding the first few gallons of RO water.

Maintenance Tips

Maintaining your RO system is primarily about replacing the filters and membrane at the recommended intervals:

  1. Regular Filter Replacement: Change the pre-filters and post-filters every 6 to 12 months, depending on your water usage and the level of sediments and contaminants in your water. These filters protect the RO membrane and ensure the taste and quality of the water.
  2. RO Membrane Replacement: The RO membrane usually needs replacing every 1 to 1.5 years. However, this can vary based on your water quality and how much water you use.
  3. System Sanitization and Checkup: It’s a good idea to sanitize your RO system annually. This process involves cleaning the system with a sanitizing solution to remove any bacterial growth. Also, inspect the system for any worn parts or leakages.
  4. Keep Track of Maintenance: Keep a log of filter changes and maintenance activities. This will help you keep track of when next to replace parts and can also aid in troubleshooting any issues.


PFAs pose a serious health risk, but RO systems like those from NU Aqua can significantly mitigate these dangers. Explore these RO systems and take an important step towards ensuring your drinking water's safety and quality.

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