Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been detected in some water resources throughout the country, especially in groundwater drinking wells near airports, military bases, and manufacturing sites. Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two of the more prominently found PFAS constituents and are no longer manufactured or imported into the United States; however, there could be some imported goods containing trace amounts of these substances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS are persistent in the environment, can accumulate within the human body over time, and are toxic at relatively low concentrations. These synthetic substances, of which there are more than 3,000 known chemical varieties, are found in numerous products used in everyday life such as paper food packaging, non-stick coating materials, and stain resistant fabrics. They are also found in aqueous film forming foam products that are used to suppress high-intensity fuel fires. Because of their strong chemical bonds, PFAS are persistent and stable in the environment, making these chemicals extremely difficult to remove even if they were to be completely eliminated from production and use.
Concerns about PFAS
Water and wastewater utilities are on the front lines of environmental protection and are committed to ensuring the safety of the nation’s waters. Water and wastewater utilities and their trade associations share concerns about the presence of PFAS compounds in the environment and are encouraged by the growing body of information that will help make prudent, practical management decisions.
Regional San’s Actions
Regional San is closely following concerns about PFAS and continues to rely on the current science. We urge federal and state regulators to focus on stopping these chemicals at their source through appropriate controls on industrial and other uses – before they enter the sewer system or the environment – and to consider the impacts of new policies or laws on utilities. Water and wastewater utilities are committed to understanding more about PFAS and support further research for a rational, practical, and scientifically based approach. Currently, water and wastewater trade associations are taking the lead on advocacy efforts related to these constituents.
In June 2018, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommended interim notification levels for PFOA and PFOS. After independent review of the available information on the risks, the Water Board Division of Drinking Water (DDW) established notification levels for PFOS and PFOA (13 parts per trillion for PFOS and 14 parts per trillion for PFOA), as well as a single health advisory response level which offers a margin of protection for all persons throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. When possible, DDW recommends removing the source from service or providing treatment when the concentration exceeds a response level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA combined.
For more information on California State Water Resources Control Board PFAS activities, visit waterboards.ca.gov/pfas.
Environmental Protection Agency Actions
On February 14, 2019, the EPA published its Action Plan on PFAS. Relevant to the water sector, below are the most immediate aspects of EPA’s Action Plan.
To date, the EPA has issued drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion or 70 ng/L.
EPA recently passed a bill to address these issues, the PFAS Release Disclosure and Protection Act of 2019 (S. 1507). This bill focuses on the following:
- Improving notification, including the listing of PFAS on the Toxics Release Inventory
- Expanding monitoring of PFAS chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act
- Requiring EPA to set, within two years, a national drinking water standard for two key PFAS legacy compounds of concern (PFOA and PFOS) – with a five-year window for water systems to comply without a fine
- Requiring nationwide sampling of PFAS in the environment by the US Geological Survey
- Requiring EPA to publish guidance on how to dispose and destroy PFAS chemicals in water, soils, air and other media, including a specific reference to biosolids
PFOA and PFOS is not a hazardous substance under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
For more information on EPA activities, visit epa.gov/pfas