Water talk: Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water

We have developed a proposed objective for PFAS in drinking water, which is available for public consultation. Learn about PFAS and how to reduce your exposure if it is present in your drinking water.

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PFAS in drinking water

PFAS are Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are a large family of synthetic chemicals, the most common being perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFAS are used in many industrial and consumer products such as adhesives, cosmetics and cleaning products. They're also used in specialized chemical applications, such as fire-fighting foams, and in water-, stain- and oil-repellent coatings for fabrics and paper.

PFAS do not break down easily in the environment. Some PFAS are found in people, fish and wildlife all over the world. They may also be found in our food, drinking water, air, house dust and everyday consumer products.

Current data we have on PFAS in Canadian freshwater sources and drinking water are limited. The data we do have suggest that PFAS are present across Canada at levels generally below the proposed objective. The concentrations of PFAS in freshwater and drinking water may be higher near:

PFAS can travel long distances through soil, water and air. As a result, PFAS can be found in freshwater and drinking water in areas that are far away from where they entered the environment.

Health effects of PFAS

Health information exists for only a small number of PFAS. What we do know is that some PFAS may affect many systems and organs, such as the liver, immune system, kidney and endocrine system (thyroid). PFAS may also affect your fertility, development and metabolism, such as your cholesterol and body weight.

The potential health risks from exposure depend on how much and how many of the PFAS you are exposed to and for how long. Most health effects associated with PFAS are also linked with other chemicals or causes. This makes it difficult to link specific health issues with PFAS exposure.

How to reduce your exposure to PFAS in drinking water

If you're concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, contact your municipality, local drinking water authority or local public health authority for advice and help.

If you do have PFAS in your drinking water, you can remove them by treating your water with a treatment unit or system. You can install either:

Make sure that any unit or system you buy is:

Note that reverse osmosis systems can be installed only at the tap. The treated water may corrode the plumbing and cause other contaminants, like lead, to leach into the water.

It's important to make sure treatment devices are installed, replaced and/or maintained according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. To avoid releasing PFAS back into the environment, check with your local authority about how to dispose your used filters. 

Bathing, showering, washing dishes, brushing teeth and doing laundry with water containing PFAS is not a concern for health. PFAS tend to stay in the water, which means that you can't readily breathe them in, and they won't be absorbed easily through the skin.

Boiling water will not remove PFAS from drinking water.

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding

If you're pregnant, breastfeeding or preparing infant formula and are concerned about exposure to PFAS in your drinking water, you may wish to:

Limits for PFAS in drinking water in Canada

We worked with provinces, territories and other federal departments to propose an objective of 30 nanograms per litre (ng/L) as a summed total of all PFAS measured in drinking water. We took a precautionary approach when developing this objective to reduce exposure to PFAS through drinking water. The lower the levels of PFAS present in the drinking water, the lower the risk of potential health effects.

To develop this proposed objective, we considered:

Limits for PFAS in drinking water in other countries

Other places such as the European Union (EU), Sweden, Denmark and some states in the U.S. have also established single guideline limits for PFAS in drinking water. For example, the EU has limits of 100 ng/L for the sum of 20 PFAS and 500 ng/L for the sum of all PFAS in drinking water.

For more information

Water Talk - Summary of drinking water values for PFOS, PFOA and other PFAS

If you have questions about the proposed objective or PFAS in drinking water, you may contact us by:

Health Canada does not give advice on individual situations, including medical and health concerns.

For medical problems, questions or concerns, contact your health care provider (your family doctor or a health clinic).

For water quality concerns, testing and interpreting results, contact your municipal service provider, local drinking water or health authority.

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