PFAS Information

Cambridge Water Department: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Please note that there may be a delay in posting PFAS results to the CWD website due to MassDEP’s Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) checks.



The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2016 published a drinking water Health Advisory Level for two of the PFAS compounds (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, PFOS, and Perfluoroocatanoic acid, PFOA) combined at 0.070 micrograms per liter (ug/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt). In June 2018, MassDEP issued an Office of Research and Standards Guideline (ORSG) for drinking water of 70 ppt for PFOA, PFOS, PFNA (Perfluorononanoic acid), PFHxS (Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid), and PFHpA (Perfluoroheptanoic acid) combined. The three additional PFAS compounds were included because they share very similar chemical structures and the available data indicates they are likely to exhibit similar toxicities. On January 27, 2020, MassDEP updated the ORSG for drinking water to add an additional compound, PFDA, for a total of 6 PFAS and lowered the guideline to 20 ppt for the total sum of the concentrations of the 6 PFAS. The ORSG was established to be protective against adverse health effects for all people consuming the water for a lifetime and is also applicable to shorter-term exposures of weeks to months during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

Based on this ongoing evaluation, MassDEP is currently engaged in a number of coordinated, concurrent efforts to inform its final decisions regarding PFAS in drinking water in Massachusetts. The standard for groundwater that is used or may be used as drinking water is 20 ppt for the six (6) PFAS compounds combined: the five (5) compounds noted above, plus perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA). 





Based on current ORSG, MassDEP has recommended: (3-10-2020)




  • Consumers in sensitive subgroups (pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants) not consume water when the level of the six PFAS substances, individually or in combination, is above 20 ppt.
  • Public water suppliers take steps expeditiously to lower levels of the six PFAS, individually or in combination, to below 20 ppt for all consumers.
  • If the confirmed PFAS level is below the proposed MCP groundwater cleanup standard of 20 ppt but at or above 10 ppt, MassDEP will recommend that that you evaluate your operations, review source protection practices, monitor at a frequency recommended by the Department and continue routine operations.
  • If the confirmed PFAS level is below 10 ppt, MassDEP will recommend continuance of routine operations.

Additional information on the MassDEP ORSG

Additional information for consumers:



Additional references:

In-Home Water Filtration Systems for PFAS Reduction (3-9-2020)
Certified Filtration Systems 

Best NSF Certified Water Filter 2020: Reviews & Guide
The best way to know your filter is effective is to make sure that it is tested by an independent third party. The packaging for the filter will typically contain this information. This information can also usually be found on the manufacturer’s web page. 

If you have a Manufacturer/Brand/Model information. Here is a link to the Water Quality Association’s searchable database for Certified Water Treatment Products

Also make sure that the filter has been tested using a standardized methodology. Up until recently, the protocol that has been widely accepted has been NSF Standard P473. That standard was recently retired (March 2019) and has been replaced by American National Standard 53 from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Using an independent party to test a filter using a standardized protocol helps ensure that the filter has been tested in a uniform manner.

Here is a link to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) website on choosing a home filtration device
Here is a link to the Center for Disease Control website on choosing a home filtration device

Types of Filtration Systems

Both granular activated carbon (GAC) and reverse osmosis (RO) filters can reduce PFAS substances. Both systems provide less water flow than a standard water faucet.

A GAC system:
• reduces the amounts of PFAS and some other contaminants in drinking water.
• has a carbon filtration cartridge which captures the contaminants.
• provides more water flow than an RO system.
• has cartridges that are rated to treat more gallons of water than those in an RO system and are less expensive to replace.
• are often easier to install than RO systems.
• does not remove minerals from water.
An RO system:
• reduces the levels of more contaminants in water, including arsenic and nitrates, than a GAC system.
• typically consists of a sediment filter, carbon filters, and an RO system membrane. RO systems force water through the membrane under pressure, leaving the contaminants at the membrane.
• provides less water flow than a GAC system.
• uses approximately three times as much water as it treats, and discharges the untreated water to the sewer or septic system.
• removes minerals from water. Some systems include re-mineralizers.
• requires more frequent changes of the filtration cartridge and the RO membrane.
• is more costly.


For any filtration system to be effective, it must be maintained. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and change the cartridges as often as recommended. Most systems include an indicator to notify you when the cartridges or the RO membrane should be replaced.

Cartridge Disposal

The cartridges may be disposed of in household trash. They are not considered hazardous waste.

Local Health Department Contact Information

If you have been notified that PFAS were found in your drinking water well sample, alternate water or a filtration system may be available to you. For more information, contact health department


In July of 2018 the California Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water issued a drinking water notification level (NL) of 14 ppt for PFOA and a NL of 13 ppt for PFOS due to liver toxicity and cancer risks (for PFOA) and immunotoxicity risks (for PFOS).



In May of 2019 a law relating to PFAS was passed in Vermont requiring the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to adopt an MCL by rule for PFAS compounds.  This new law provides a comprehensive framework to identify PFAS contamination and to issue new rules to govern acceptable levels in surface water and drinking water.  The proposed rule will be available for public comment this fall.  The final proposed rule must be filed with the Secretary of State’s office by February 1, 2020.  The basis for this rule is the Department of Health’s advisory level of 20 ppt for the sum of five PFAS compounds, they include: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA.  These are the same five compounds being considered in MA.



On September 30, 2019 New Hampshire DEP adopted the following PFAS MCLs:


PFHxS (Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid): 18 ppt
PFNA (Perfluorononanoic acid): 11 ppt
PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid): 15 ppt
PFOA (Perfluoroocatanoic acid): 12 ppt



The Cambridge Water Department is committed to providing our customers with quality drinking water. As your water supplier, we are working closely with MassDEP to maintain the quality of your water.



For specific health concerns regarding your exposure you may want to consult a health professional, such as your doctor.



For other health-related questions, you may also contact the Cambridge Health Department at 617-665-3838 or visit one of the websites below.



For treatment and process related questions please contact the Water Department at 617-349-4780.





Where can I get more information on PFAS?



MassDEP PFAS Information.



Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC). PFAS.



Association of State Drinking Water Administrators PFAS webpage



EPA’s Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS can be found at:



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Statement for PFOS and PFOA can be found at:



For additional information on possible health effects, you may contact the Massachusetts Department Environmental Protection, Office of Research and Standards at 617-556-1165.



For information on the MassDEP Drinking Water Program, you may visit:


or contact the program at or 617-292-5770.

Additional Information & PFAS Fact Sheet