Sunday, June 26, 2022

Forever Chemicals- Now What

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced updated interim health advisory levels for four compounds in drinking water that are part of a group of compounds called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) commonly referred to a "forever chemicals." Drinking water health advisories provide information on contaminants but are non-enforceable and non-regulatory.

EPA plans to propose a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation in fall 2022. As EPA develops this proposed rule, the agency is also evaluating additional PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS and considering actions to address groups of PFAS.

The health advisories addressed four PFAS chemicals: perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), and the chemicals that have replaced them in the United States in recent years. In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) is considered a replacement for PFOS. The health advisory levels focus on these four chemical compounds: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS.

  • Interim updated Health Advisory for PFOA = 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt)
  • Interim updated Health Advisory for PFOS = 0.02 ppt
  • Final Health Advisory for GenX chemicals = 10 ppt
  • Final Health Advisory for PFBS = 2,000 ppt

As Fairfax Water points out: “Water utilities are passive receivers of PFAS.  They do not produce or manufacture PFAS.  Instead, these chemicals are present in source waters that are treated to produce drinking water.”

In anticipation of future regulations, Fairfax Water hired an independent lab to test their water in spring 2021using current EPA-approved methods that can detect PFAS at much lower concentrations than previous methods. Fairfax Water also participated in the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Occurrence Study that was completed in 2021. However, the practical quantitative limit was two to three orders of magnitude above the health advisory limit. (The PQL for PFOS and PFOA were both 3.5 ppt in their study.) An additional round of PFAS testing will be performed this month.

Below is a summary of all Fairfax Water PFAS Data, analyzed using EPA Method 533:

from Fairfax Water

As you can see, some of Fairfax Water’s results for PFOS and PFAS are above EPA’s 2022 health advisory levels. However, at this time, the lowest level that instruments can detect even at the special laboratory is 2 ppt, therefore results cannot be quantified down to the EPA’s Interim HA levels for PFOS and PFOA.

In 2016, the EPA health advisory was 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS combined.  Since then, analytical methods have improved, and utilities are now able to test down to lower levels, but not yet low enough to screen for PFOA and PFOS at the new interim health advisory levels. 

Fairfax Water states:

“We are following the guidance of EPA and VDH Office of Drinking Water. Our next round of voluntary occurrence testing will occur in June of 2022. We will also be collecting PFAS samples in 2023 for the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5). We await further guidance and will take action if necessary to meet future state and federal regulations when they are established.”

What do you do if you are concerned? Bottled water is not the answer, there is no standard for PFAS for bottled water, and bottled water is more lightly regulated than drinking water. If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, you may consider purchasing a home treatment device. Though there are devices that have been certified as removing PFAS, the effectiveness of the removal has not been certified down to the level of the health advisory. According to the American Chemistry Council the level of new health advisory cannot be achieved with existing treatment technology and, are below levels that can be reliably detected using existing EPA methods.

Nonetheless, there is some home filter that have been independently certified to remove PFAS at a higher detection limit and it might help. NSF International, the Water Quality Association, Underwriters Laboratories and CSA International all certify home treatment products for removal of contaminants. NSF/ANSI Standards 53 and 58 are certified to remove PFAS at a higher level and are filters you can buy for your refrigerator ice maker and water tap. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance instructions carefully to give the filter the best shot of removing contaminants.

See the entire VDH sampling report here. Loudoun Water participated in PFAS sampling both as an independent utility, and in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Only one sample was found above the 2 ppt sample PQL - PFOA at 4.5 ppt. 
WSSC and the Washington Aqueduct have yet to respond to the EPA's new health advisory.

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