Sunday, April 30, 2023

Possum Point Update


Keep on the lookout for a notice and public hearing by DEQ for Dominion Energy to obtain a landfill permit for Possum Point, its coming down the road- Dominion Energy applied for the permit in the fourth quarter last year. Coal was used to power the Possum Point power plant from 1948-2003 when they switched to natural gas. There is a whole lot of coal ash in Prince William County at Possum Point-millions of tons of the stuff. It is all sitting on a peninsula where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River in eastern Prince William County. 

In 2015 right after the release of the EPA rule for disposal of coal ash, Dominion Virginia Power announced that they intended to close all of the ash ponds at its Virginia power stations including those in Dumfries at Possum Point in general compliance with rules. That did not go smoothly. There was a desire to have a more stringent regulation in Virginia by many of the Public and environmental groups.

Last spring, Dominion Energy proposed to build and permit a double lined landfill at Possum Point to bury the millions of pounds of coal ash in a new onsite landfill. This proposal is both cheaper and faster than the other alternatives- recycling the coal ash into concrete or moving the coal ash to another landfill.  Virginians will ultimately pay for any solution through increased electric rates for the disposal of the coal ash.

The proposed landfill would replace an existing coal ash pond (Pond D) that was used to consolidate all the coal ash on site.  In accordance with the Prince William County Zoning Ordinance definitions, both the proposed landfill and the existing coal ash pond are considered debris landfills.  Last spring Dominion Energy submitted a request to the Prince William County Planning Office for a determination for the proposed solid waste (coal ash) landfill at the Possum Point. Prince William County found that the proposed landfill is a reconstruction/improvement of an existing debris landfill (coal ash pond) to dispose of and relocate the existing on-site materials. The use will remain within the existing facility property and relocation of materials will occur on-site and a public facility review was not required.

A solid waste permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be required for the new landfill. The request to obtain the permit was made at the end of last year and will require a public hearing and notice process by DEQ.  Dominion must also continue to comply with its existing water discharge permit, which was previously issued by DEQ.

Supervisor Baily whose district this falls in continues to favor removal of the contamination at Possum Point. However, Prince William County does not have the authority to require that. County zoning and legal reviews 1986, 2000 and 2002 found that the coal ash pond was a “continuation of an existing use” and that a public facility review  regulate operations at the site was not required. Since the landfill would be onsite and is a reconstruction or improvement of an existing coal ash pond, the county cannot require a new public facilities review. The granting of the permissions for this facility was granted in 1948.

Moving waste from one site to another just creates another location for potential contamination from coal ash. The existing coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades. Trace contaminants and metals (and potentially hexavalent chromium) in the coal ash have already leached into the groundwater, soils, Quantico Creek and Potomac. Creating a landfill on site would require continual monitoring and maintenance. This is probably best accomplished at an operating and regulated plant rather than at a remote cap and leave it location. Though Dominion is proposing a landfill with two liners, all physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by monitoring and maintaining the systems. I believe that recycling the coal ash would have been the best solution.

Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies, but appears to have impacted some local residents wells, but that impact is unlikely to spread beyond what has already taken place over the decades and one hope when the source of the contamination is removed that over decades the local groundwater may improve. Supervisor Baily and the Riverkeepers appear to object to building a landfill on the existing industrial site and prefer moving the coal ash elsewhere. I believe they are wrong. Though I believe the coal ash should not leave Possum Point, I am concerned about the residual metals in the coal ash.

Chromium is a metallic element found in rocks (including coal), soils, plants, and animals and is known to be present at Possum Point. Cr(III) is relatively non-hazardous to humans and is in fact an essential nutrient. Chromium III in coal is not considered a serious health risk. However, during commercial coal combustion when coal is burned to generate steam for turbines that produce electricity, the trace contaminants are left behind. Ash is created from the incombustible inorganic components in coal. That ash can contain not only hexavalent chromium, but also arsenic, selenium, lead, copper, antimony, and thallium. These are the contaminants likely present in the coal ash, soils and groundwater at Possum Point.

EPA does not regulate hexavalent chromium at this time, and Dominion Energy has not tested for hexavalent chromium at Possum Point. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for hexavalent chromium in California was lowered to 0.01 ppb in drinking water in 2014. Hexavalent chromium in drinking water is not regulated in Virginia, only total chromium, but may someday. I am concerned about protecting our groundwater and our surface water. I do not believe in hauling one environmental problem to another location to become a second environmental problem. Dominion Power has only tested the shallow aquifer up-gradient and down-gradient of Pond D. Groundwater impacts were observed. As Dominion Points out no impact to human health or the environment was found, but it was not looked for, either.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Spring Flushing of the Water Pipes


On March 20th, 2020 Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water  began flushing their water distribution systems. The Washington Aqueduct which supplies water to D.C. and Arlington and a small area of Fairfax began their program February 20th 2023. Each spring for about 12 weeks in Washington DC,  Arlington , Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water flush their water mains by opening fire hydrants and allowing them to flow freely for a short period of time. In addition, the Washington Aqueduct, Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water temporary change how the water is disinfected.

For most of the year, chloramines, also known as combined chlorine, is added to the water as the primary disinfectant. During the spring the Washington Aqueduct and Fairfax water treatment plants switch back to chlorine in an uncombined state, commonly referred to as free chlorine. This free chlorine reacts with sediments suspended during flushing and kills bacteria that may be in the bio-film that forms on the pipe walls. Many water chemistry experts believe this short exposure to a different type of disinfectant maintains a low microbial growth in the bio-film and improves the quality and safety of the water. This change will last through May 15th 2023 for the Washington Aqueduct and June 12, 2023 for Loudoun and Fairfax Water. WSSC does not flush their pipes.

This change in disinfection is an annual program to clean the water distribution pipes and maintain high water quality throughout the year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct provides water to the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and Falls Church and McLean VA. Fairfax Water provides water to the Fairfax county (purchasing it from the Aqueduct for Falls Church and McLean) and parts of both Loudoun and Prince William County. Both Fairfax Water and the Aqueduct switch from chloramine to chlorine during this period. DC Water is completing their pipe flushing. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) abolished its preventative flushing program years ago to save money. In recent years WSSC has been plagued with discolored water complaints.

Those of you in the Fairfax, Loudoun,  Arlington and Washington DC service areas may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during this time, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee and tea lover like me, use filtered water or leave an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate. Water customers who normally take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquarium owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine. The annual chlorination is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system.

Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and adequate flushing of the system. The flushing removes sediments made up of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes as well as bacteria on the bio-film. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant.

During the spring flushing program your water may look or taste different. Free chlorine is quicker acting than chloramines, which allows it to react with sediments suspended during the flushing which may result in temporary discoloration and the presence of sediment in your water. These conditions should be of very short duration and the water is reported to be safe. Though, remember you still need to treat tap water before using it in a fish aquarium. Disinfectants can harm fish. Check with a local pet store to learn what types of chemicals you need to add to the tank to neutralize the effects of the disinfectant.

During the spring flushing you may notice a white of bubbly appearance or a chlorine taste and odor in your drinking water. The bubbly appearance is simply a result of the oxygen in the water being stirred up during flushing causing visible air bubbles. Let the water sit for a few seconds and you will see the bubbles clear from bottom to top. The chlorine taste can be removed by filter or by simply letting the water sit in an open container in your refrigerator. If you are especially sensitive to the taste and odor of chlorine, filters commonly used in refrigerators are very effective at removing chlorine- change your filter.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Participate in the PW Climate Plan Townhall

In November, 2020 the Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) adopted the Climate Mitigation and Climate Resiliency (CM/CR) Goals from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG):
By 2030:
    • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 50% below 2005 levels
    • Achieve 100% renewable electricity in Prince William County Government operations
    • Become a Climate Ready Region and make significant progress to be a Climate Resilient Region
By 2035 - Source 100% of PWC’s electricity from renewable sources
By 2050 – Achieve 100% carbon neutrality in Prince William County Government operations

The BOCS went on to authorize the hiring and funding of a consultant to develop the Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan that will serve as a roadmap for reaching the climate goals above, a staff position to coordinate the work of the consultant and input from various county departments and the creation of the Sustainability Commission to to advise on content of the Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP).

The registration for the VIRTUAL Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP) Townhall taking place on Wednesday, May 17 is now open. Below is the information posted on the CESMP webpage. Please share with your friends and neighbors:

Register Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan Virtual Townhall May 17th at 6:30pm

The Prince William Office of Sustainability is holding a virtual Townhall on Wednesday, May 17th at 6:30pm EST to seek public input on which actions should be considered high priority in the Prince William Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP). The CESMP is being developed to serve as a roadmap for meeting the county’s Climate Mitigation and Resiliency goals set forth by the Board of County Supervisors.

Please review the draft action lists, which currently include 65 actions for greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, climate adaptation and resiliency.

Please Register for the Virtual CESMP Townhall here. If you would like to speak, indicate on the registration and login 30 minutes prior to the event to get set up. You will have 3 minutes to share which actions you believe should be a priority and why. Registration closes on Tuesday, May 16th at 5pm. Participants must be registered to attend.

PWC is also providing an opportunity for those who cannot attend the Townhall, or do not wish to speak publicly, to submit their priority actions. They can do so through the survey below until May 15th. The results of this survey will be shared during the Townhall on the 17th. Please feel free to participate and to share with your networks as well.

Survey for Public Input on Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan Prioritization

The Prince William Office of Sustainability is seeking public input on which actions should be considered high priority in the Prince William Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP). The CESMP is being developed to serve as a roadmap for meeting the county’s Climate Mitigation and Resiliency goals set forth by the Board of County Supervisors.

The Board has outlined goals for the entire county, as well as goals specifically targeted at county government operations. There are currently 65 draft actions for greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, climate adaptation and resiliency. Please use this survey to identify what your top 5 priority actions would be by indicating the action number in the draft action lists (first column on the left). There is also an option to provide comment on why you chose your highest priority actions at the end of the survey.

This survey is not statistically significant, it is meant to give a general impression of what types of actions the public would find most valuable in the CESMP. The survey will close Monday, May 15 at 12pm. They could move forward with the actions they deem best. 

If you have any questions please reach out to Director of the Office of Sustainability, Giulia Manno, at

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

QTS /Compass Open House Rescheuduled

On Tuesday evening there will be an open house at Bull Run Middle School and Towne Place Suites in Woodbridge to sell the Digital Gateway Development to the public.  In November the Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to create PW Digital Gateway a technology corridor of more than 2,100 acres along Pageland Lane for the development of data centers.  To move forward with this project, the land must be rezoned from AE, Agricultural or Estate and ER, Environmental Resource to Technology / Flex (T/F).  After the rezoning, a Special Use Permit (SUP) must be granted.  

We must make a full stop and perform our due diligence. Before we do irreversible harm to the ecology and our regional drinking water supply, we need to look at what the impacts of planned changes will be to the water supply. Prince William County must convene the Occoquan Basin Policy Board and oversee a Comprehensive Study of the proposed land use changes to evaluate their impact on water quality and quantity in the Occoquan Reservoir and our groundwater resources before any further action is taken.

Quality Technology Services (QTS)  tried to hold a Community Open House on the proposed Prince William Digital Gateway at Bull Run Middle School on April 18th in Gainesville as part of the rezoning process. The event was cancelled by the middle school because it was scheduled for the same night as the 6th grade open house. It has been rescheduled for April 25th along with another event in Woodbridge at the Town Place Suites by Marriott. These  events will focus on  QTS's  and Compass rezoning application for approximately 800 acres within the Digital Gateway corridor and allow them to sell it to the public on all the good that data centers bring to our society and what positives data centers could bring to Prince William County. In the printed materials QTS made a big deal about their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) sustainability initiatives, and the fact that they intend to abide by the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) , a law enacted by Virginia General Assembly in 1988.

The entire plan can be seen here

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) was enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to protect and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay through land use management. Since that time there have been several amendments strengthening the Bay Act. The Regulations of the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act require that a vegetated buffer area of at least 100-feet wide be located adjacent to both sides of all water bodies with perennial flow within region. These aquatic features, along with the 100-foot buffer area on each side of all rivers, streams and creeks, are called the Resource Protection Area (RPA) and building within the RPA is forbidden except in very narrow instances. Some of the buffers they intend to maintain are half that width, 50-foot. Not exactly the environmental boon they are promising. The RPAs serve to protect water quality by reducing excess sediment, nutrients, and potentially harmful or toxic substances from groundwater and surface water entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The RPA also are essential for meeting the Chesapeake Bay TMDL mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the materials posted online, the rezoning application includes the required by law and regulation landscape buffers, reforestation areas and preservation of environmentally sensitive lands.  According to QTS “Approximately 37% (800 acres) of the 2,133 acres in the corridor have been identified for protection by zoning proffer, covenant, and conservation easement.” Most of this is forested buffers required by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. There are many perennial stream in the Occoquan Watershed in this area and 100 feet on each side is protected by law, they actually intend to protect less. Other inconvenient or stranded land was included in their buffers. In their literature QTS talks about a land donations to Conway Robinson Forest and Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP), but that is not part of the rezoning request. Many promises are made and not followed up on. 

The proposed maintenance of the RPA along the streams

The next 2,300 acres to go

Aside from this first rezoning, in the works is the expansion of the PW Digital Gateway over another 2,300 acres along Sanders Lane to the Loudoun County Line. The PW Digital Gateway would abut the agricultural estates along Sanders Land, so they are proposing another Comprehensive Plan Amendment. Prince William County is not allowing any further Comprehensive Plan Amendments to move forward until after the election in November, but the plan is to move forward right after the winter holidays. Data Center Land Development LLC and assigns is offering 10 acre homeowners in that area $12,500,000 under their term sheet. Live adjacent to PW Digital Gateway or sell out, pretty much an easy decision. Then the next group until Data Centers are too far from the Loudoun data center corridor moving south to meet them. The below image is from the Loudoun County Data Center Land Study. The light and dark green areas are the ones they found suitable for data centers.

from Loudoun County Land Study

They will keep going until the land is no longer desirable. This image of Aldie from CNBC shows what our future holds. Ultimately, a neighborhood will abut every data center. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

DEQ Cancelled Data Center Generator Variance

 Last week the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality(DEQ) posted a notice that read in part:

“In response to public comment, a proposed variance for data centers located in Loudoun County was withdrawn by the Department on April 12, 2023.”

They went on to say “DEQ is cancelling the public notice and not moving forward at this time with the consideration of an issuance of an order granting a temporary local variance for data centers located in Loudoun County. …The proposal was intended to be an option to allow the data centers to continue to serve their customers, maintain the integrity of internet, and alleviate demand on the electric grid during periods of extreme stress. Given further discussion with stakeholders and public comment on the proposal, DEQ believes that these issues are now being addressed between the data centers, the utilities, and the regional transmission organization (PJM interconnect).If needed in the future, DEQ stands ready to assist in ensuring that Virginians have a reliable, affordable, clean, and growing supply of energy.”

Apparently, according to DEQ this variance hard fought by the public and NGO community was not necessarily. This variance would have provided data centers located in Northern Virginia originally and in the revised form after the first public hearing, only in Loudoun County to operate their Tier II and Tier IV generators during periods that PJM has initiated a "Maximum Generation Emergency/Load Management Alert" or during periods that PJM has declared a "Post Contingency Local Load Relief Warning" for Loudoun County.

According to the Washington Post: “Since 2020, three “Maximum Generation Emergency Load Alerts” have been issued — all of them last year, according to the PJM website.” The second category, “Post Contingency Local Load Relief Warnings” — are issued far more common, with 90 occurring in Dominion’s coverage area last year.  

This proposal did not include a demand response program like they have in California. In such a program Dominion and NOVAC or possibly the regional grid operator would provide financial incentives for data centers to reduce demand on the grid by shifting to on-site generation. These kind of  demand response programs usually include critical peak pricing, variable peak pricing, real time pricing, and critical peak rebates. Demand response programs also include programs for smaller users which provide the ability for the power companies to cycle air conditioners, heat pumps and water heaters on and off during periods of peak demand to manage the load.

Near the end of July last summer, Dominion Energy informed  data center companies and Loudoun County that power for some new facilities in Eastern Loudoun County would be delayed until 2026 due to inadequate transmission infrastructure. In 2022 Northern Virginia added 772 Megawatts (MW) of data centers. The grid in Northern Virginia has not kept pace with the massive data center growth in the region. 

During the first comment period lots of the public and community environmental groups spoke against the variance, but two of the most effective comments came from the Data Center Coalition and the Southern Environmental Law Institute. Josh Levi, president of the Data Center Coalition, pointed out that the variance was only necessary for eastern Loudoun County, the area that Dominion had given “assurance that the impact of the transmission constraint” would be limited.

Southern Environmental Law Institute Attorney Morgan Butler was very effective and specific in his comments, asking DEQ  to detail how many generators the data centers would be running, how long they would run and the volumes and types of additional air pollution they would contribute to the local environment.

In the revised notice DEQ estimated that there are approximately 4,021 diesel-fueled Tier II generators (older and of higher emissions) and 130 Tier IV (lower emissions) generators located at data centers in Loudoun County. The likely potential pollutants from a generator could include nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Federal regulations limit the amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by permit holders to 100 tons per year and DEQ estimate the emission per hour per generator. With those restraints all the generators could have run approximately 5.13 days each before reaching the permit limit.

It was reported by the Bay Journal and the Virginia Mercury that on March 27, Josh Levi, president of the Data Center Coalition sent a letter to DEQ asking for the withdrawal of the variance altogether, citing “unresolved technical, federal regulatory and operational challenges.” Mr. Levy went on to say “Due to these issues, no DCC member has indicated they would use the variance.” 

The proposal has been cancelled, but the problem with the electrical grid infrastructure being adequate to meet the demand for transmission and power for data centers is still unresolved. In the first half of 2022, a record of 514 MW of data centers went operational in Northern Virginia (mostly Loudoun). However, in July 2022, Dominion Energy informed Loudoun County and various other entities that they  would no longer be able to support new data center developments in Eastern Loudoun due to limitations in transmission - their ability to distribute sufficient power to substations. This issue could delay projects currently planned or under active construction until at least 2024 if not further out. For the rest of 2022 only 208 MW of additional data centers came online. 

Demand for data centers in the region has not slowed. There are expected to be 965 MW of additional data centers coming online in 2023. This will bring the total northern Virginia regional load to more than 3,000 megawatts. To give you some idea of what that means: Dominion Energy has four nuclear reactors at two sites. The two Hog Island in Surry County reactors can generate a total of 1,638 megawatts. Two nuclear reactors in Louisa County near Lake Anna can generate a total of 1,863 megawatts. Those four reactors have historically generated 30% of Virginia’s power. By estimates provided by Cushman and Wakefield the demand for power from datacenters will surpass that by 2024.

The growth in data center power demand is ensuring that there is simply no path for Virginia to successfully meet the requirements and timeline of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA)with data centers growing demand for electricity. The energy needs of the Commonwealth, its businesses and its families are changing – and growing at a breath taking rate. Virginia is already the data center capital of the world and the industry is exploding along with the demand of 24 hours a day 7 days a week power needed to run them.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

What Have We Done

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) do not occur in nature, they are an entirely synthetic substance. Yet, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood, especially perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). On March 14, 2023, EPA announced the proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX Chemicals), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS). EPA anticipates finalizing the regulation by the end of 2023.

There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This category of chemical has been widely used for over 80 years mainly for their ability to repel oil, grease, water, and heat. PFOS and PFOA found in Scotch Guard and an ingredient in Teflon and traditional Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) - the Class B firefighting foam used to fight aviation and other chemical fires -were the first to become widely commercially successful.

After AFFF is deployed in an emergency or training exercise, it can seep into the ground, or flow to the storm drain system and contaminate soil, surface water and groundwater. Then there was the waste water from the manufacture of flame retardants, Teflon, Gortex, Scotch guard and other coating that was buried, ponded or simply released into streams. PFAS began to spread in the environment.

Then onto consumer products. Spray coatings to cans and food packaging. Wash water from light manufacturing or processing. Treatments for fabrics. The companies that applied the stain resistant and flame resistant treatments to carpeting, upholstery, clothing sent their waste water to the waste water treatment plants which cannot remove PFAS. Food with PFAS containing packaging picked up traces of PFAS and it was passed onto people that way, too.

The PFAS ended up in the effluent and the biosolids. The reach and spread of PFAS was increased because effluent from wastewater treatment is released to rivers and used as source water for drinking water. Out it went to rivers and streams ultimately to the oceans. Fish and seafood were exposed to PFAS through the waste water effluent as were we. The Occoquan receives up to 40 million gallons a day of treated waste water from UOSA. Waste water treatment also generates biosolids which became contaminated with PFAS. Biosolids were land applied and buried in landfills. Animals grazed on the land, food grown on the land picked up some of the PFAS and passed traces into food. People passed it onto other wastewater treatment plants and the circle widened.

When our analytical methods were less precise and PFAS had less time to permeate our environments, we used to think that only people living near the industrial manufactures of PFAS, their industrial waste disposal sites  or airports were exposed. The ability to measure parts per trillion disabused us of that belief.

We discovered that we are all exposed to PFAS in everyday life. Stain-resistant carpeting, nonstick cookware, grease- and water-proof food packaging, fabric softeners, waterproof clothing, cosmetics, and through our diet and water. These forever chemicals are washed out of our clothing, carpeting, pans, skin and end up in our wastewater. There are numerous sources of exposure including: industrial emissions, PFAS-containing consumer products, contaminated drinking and surface water, house dust and food.

Though very water soluble, PFAS are resistant to degradation and simply flow through the wastewater treatment plant or septic leach field. PFAS remains in the biosolids and effluent. That is how it has spread through out society.

Though PFOS and PFOA have been eliminated from production, exposure to them is still occurring. All of the PFOS and PFOA ever manufactured is out there still circulating in the hydrologic cycle. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the NIH): “People are most likely exposed to these chemicals by consuming PFAS-contaminated water or food, using products made with PFAS, or breathing air containing PFAS. Because PFAS break down slowly, if at all, people and animals are repeatedly exposed to them, and blood levels of some PFAS can build up over time.”

One report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans. Even when/ or if the source of exposure is removed, measurable levels of PFASs may be detected in humans due to the relatively long half-life of these chemicals. The estimated half-life for PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS in humans ranges from 3.8 to 8.5 years.  

According to Fairfax Water diet is responsible for 66%-72% of exposures to PFOA and PFOS (the two chemicals that have been most widely studied). In some cases, they have also leached into both surface and groundwater. Water is responsible for 22%-25% of exposures. The carbon-fluorine (C-F) bond in PFAS is the strongest bond in chemistry which does not break down naturally in the environment. So, it persists. PFAS are very soluble in water. PFASs are resistant to degradation and, consequently, exposure to them is occurring long after they have been eliminated from production.

EPA expects that if the drinking water standard for PFAS is fully implemented, the rule will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses. One problem with this is researchers are still trying to understand how to safely dispose of materials that contain PFAS. Due to their strong chemical bonds, PFAS are difficult to destroy. In the past we tried burying them, flushed them down drains or into rivers and only managed to spread them throughout our society. We need to find better ways of disposing of the PFAS removed from water.  

EPA and other federal agencies’ researchers are doing tests to figure out the best ways to destroy and dispose of PFAS as well as effectively remove them from water. The agency is also working to understand how PFAS at a contaminated site may move into the nearby water, soil, or air. There is so much we still need to learn. Research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects, but the U.S EPA felt they had enough information to promulgate the regulatory level for some PFAS in drinking water. Research is also underway to better understand the health effects associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS over long periods of time, especially in children.

According to the U.S. EPA: “Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.”

Sunday, April 9, 2023

PFAS in Prince William

Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its long awaited proposal for the national drinking water standard for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

  • PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.

If finalized, the proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals. It will also require systems to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards.

In May 2021, the Prince William County Service Authority participated in a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) study to analyze for PFAS in water samples collected from the distribution systems of the 17 largest water utilities in the state. The Service Authority collected samples from its East and West systems and sent them to an independent laboratory selected by VDH for testing. What they found was:


The public water supply in eastern Prince William (blue) comes from the Occoquan Reservoir. PWSA purchases 15 million gallons of water a day from Fairfax Water which is all drawn from the Occoquan Reservoir. American Water also purchases the drinking water for Daily City from Fairfax Water and as you can see from the connector, that water, also comes from the Occoquan.

Fairfax Water also participated in the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Occurrence Study that was completed in 2021. It is important to point out that the practical quantitative limit was 4 ppt just at the proposed regulatory limit. Some of Fairfax Water’s results for PFOS and PFAS were above the MRL and the regulatory limit. The ones below cannot be quantified, they might be just below the quantitative limit or lower. It is impossible to tell. It appears that based on the results from PWSA that the results above the detection limit were from the Occoquan Reservoir.

The water in the Occoquan Reservoir comes from the Occoquan Watershed. And yet our water supplies are connected to each other and the land. Two thirds of the Occoquan Watershed that supplies the Occoquan Reservoir is in Prince William County. The Rural Crescent allows rain water to flow gently over vegetation, feed the aquifers that provide water to the private wells and the Evergreen water system, but also feeds the tributaries to Bull Run and the Occoquan River assuring the base flow to the rivers and streams that feed the Reservoir.

There is no longer enough water in the rivers to meet the demand, the Upper Occoquan Service Authority, UOSA, -the waste water treatment plant also delivers 40 million/day of recycled water that originated in the Potomac River to the Occoquan Reservoir. Supplementing the supply.

There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This category of chemical has been widely used for over 80 years mainly for their ability to repel oil, grease, water, and heat. We are all exposed to PFAS in everyday life. Stain-resistant carpeting, old nonstick cookware, grease- and water-proof food packaging, fabric softeners, waterproof clothing, cosmetics, and through our diet and water.

These forever chemicals have gotten into our national soil. As documented in Maine, land applied biosolids have carried PFAS to the soil in some locations. These chemicals have remained in the soil, been taken up into plants, and made their way into animals who eat those plants. According to Fairfax Water diet is responsible for 66%-72% of exposures to PFOA and PFOS (the two chemicals that have been most widely studied). In some cases, they have also leached into both surface and groundwater. Water is responsible for 22%-25% of exposures.

Keeping PFAS out of the source water the real challenge when PFAS is in our diet and wastewater is reused in our drinking water supplies. To stay within the regulatory limit, Fairfax Water will have to identify the PFAS content in the various source of water and can mix them to minimize exposure or remove them. The sampling identified a difference between water from the Occoquan Reservoir and other sources (Potomac River and Lake Manassas). Two obvious potential causes are the water from UOSA added to the Occoquan Reservoir could contain PFAS in the waste water.

Another way PFAS could have reached the Occoquan Reservoir was from accidental release from Manassas Airport. The Manassas Airport is upstream from the Occoquan Reservoir along Cannon Branch which flows into Long Branch, and accidents do happen.  In February 2020, a malfunction released a large spill of PFAS-based firefighting foam from a hangar at Manassas Regional Airport, in the Occoquan River basin. Aqueous film-forming foam, which is known as AFFF, is a firefighting foam widely used in the aviation industry because it quickly extinguishes fuel fires by spreading across the surface, depriving the fire of oxygen. This also makes a spill hard to control. The foam contains chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

This is a 2021 spill at Manassas Airport that was well contained

It is not known whether the spill contaminated water supplies, but that spill was not fully contained on site. At the time the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory did not find “significant” PFAS contamination in the Reservoir, but it was not quantified and a part per trillion is very, very little. The 8.3 or so billion gallons would have diluted the PFAS present if it was carried to the Reservoir, but PFAS is known as the forever chemicals because they take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade and accumulate in people and the environment.

Source water protection will also have to be part of the solution. With that in mind both Fairfax Water and the EPA have developed an analytic framework which provides information about PFAS across the environment. Fairfax Water plans to expand testing to fully identify (within measurement limits) the PFAS content in the various source water supplies. This information will help them develop a road map to complying with the regulation if it is finalized and providing safe drinking water to Northern Virginia.

The water quality of the Occoquan Reservoir is of concern. Last year, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors issued Directive No. 20-86 for county staff to develop a protection overlay district for the Occoquan Reservoir. County staff determined that an overlay district was not necessary. According to Prince William County 9.8% of the Occoquan Watershed is covered by impervious surfaces. According to Dr. Stanley Grant, Director of the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory watersheds with impervious surface cover 10 % or more of the land show clear signs of degradation. Until the recent Comprehensive Plan changes over half of the Occoquan Watershed in Prince William County was designated as rural and predominately zoned A-1. The rural and open land nature of the watershed had served to protect the Occoquan Reservoir from various kinds of contamination. The recent series of decision by the Board of County Supervisors has eliminated that protection.

In addition, when the Board of County Supervisors approved the new Comprehensive Plan they eliminated the protections to the Occoquan Reservoir that maintaining the Rural Crescent provided. The Comprehensive Plan Amendment approved for the development of the Digital Gateway will allow industrial development within 2,200 acres of the former Rural Crescent and provide for the development of 4 lane highways within that area bring truck traffic and introducing hundreds of sources of potential water contamination to the Occoquan Reservoir. There are other possible sources of contamination within the Occoquan Watershed that may have remained invisible when the detection limit for PFAS and other contaminants was higher.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Fairfax Water Grant Applications are being Accepted

Every year Fairfax Water offers Watershed and Water Supply Education Grants. Local and state government educational and environmental agencies, homeowners and HOAs, civic groups and not-for-profit organizations may apply for funding, technical services or a combination of these, up to a total of $10,000. Grant Applications must be postmarked by May 5th, 2023 to be considered. Grant Awards will be announced later in the summer.

Grant requests must address water supply or watershed issues within Fairfax Water’s service area or watershed area in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, or Fauquier Counties. The project or activity for which the funding is requested shall address water supply and/or watershed issues within areas served by Fairfax Water, including wholesale customers, or within the portions of the watershed providing source water to Fairfax Water’s customers lying in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, or Fauquier Counties; the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park, Falls Church, Fairfax, or Alexandria; and the towns of Herndon and Vienna.

Although source water protection, education and water quality monitoring projects are eligible for grants, preference will be given to Occoquan Reservoir shoreline stabilization projects. Shoreline stabilization projects must have demonstrable water quality benefits to Fairfax Water. These grants may be in the form of funding, technical services or a combination not to exceed a total of $10,000. Grants for erosion control projects on private property along the Occoquan Reservoir may not exceed a total of $5,000 per property.

The type of projects that are eligible are:

Education. This would include seminars, programs, or tours aimed at educating the public on water supply issues. Topics may include, but are not limited to, hydrology, water treatment processes, water distribution, watersheds, non-point source pollution, erosion and sediment control, and water quality monitoring.

Source Water Protection Projects. Including stream restoration projects, non-point source pollution management projects, or other activities aimed at improving water quality within the Occoquan Watershed or Potomac River Basin.

Water Quality Monitoring Projects. Including stream flow measurement, water quality constituent concentration, biological health, or erosion.

Occoquan Reservoir Shoreline Stabilization Projects. Property owners may apply for a grant to support stabilization projects aimed at restoring the shoreline along the Occoquan Reservoir.

 Applications are available online. Along with instructions for project submissions here. For further information contact the Watershed Protection Specialist by telephone at 703-289-6303 or by e-mail at Fairfax Water needs all their stakeholders to work with them to maintain the quality of our source water.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Do you know what’s in your well water?


Prince William County Extension will be having a test your well water clinic next week.  Sign up now online 

Water samples will be tested for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. Sample kits will be $65  again this year. Registration and pre-payment must be online by going to by April 7th 2023. I had no trouble following the link and prepaying. You will receive a receipt and confirmation of registration from  the VCEPrograms email and a payment receipt from the Bursar at Va Tech.

The Prince William Drinking Water Clinic has 3 parts:

Attend a Kick-Off Meeting and Collect Testing Kit Materials, the online registration lets you select from 3 Kick-Off Options:

Option 1: In Person, Woodbridge: Board Chambers: Monday April 10th 7-8:30 p.m.

Option 2: In Person, Manassas: Jean McCoy Conference Room: Saturday April 8th 12-1:30 p.m.

Option 3: Online, through Zoom: Wednesday April 5th 11a.m. - 12p.m., This session will be recorded and available for later viewing, links for both will be emailed to registrants. The test kits for this online training option must be picked up at VCE-PW Office: April 10-11th 8a.m.-5p.m.

The Sample Drop Off: Wednesday, April 12th from 6:00-10 a.m. ONLY at the VCE-PW Office,8033 Ashton Ave., Suite 105, Manassas 20109 (follow signs to office).

Results Interpretation Meeting through (Zoom) on Monday, May 22nd, 7:00-9:00 p.m. There will be a live Zoom interpretation meeting co-hosted by VCE Household Water QualityCoordinator Erin Ling and VCE-PW staff to explain the report, include a discussion, and answerquestions. Zoom link and details will be emailed to all registrants.

The number of kits is limited. Pre-payment online is the only way to pay and guarantee you will get a kit. You must pay and register by April 7th. No refunds will be available. Household water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of groundwater contamination, and any water treatment devices and the condition and materials of construction of the household plumbing. To ensure safe drinking water it is important to maintain your well, test it regularly and understand your system and geology. If you have water treatment equipment in your home you might want to get two test kits to test the water before and after the treatment equipment to make sure you have the right equipment for your water and that it is working properly.

The chart below shows what we found in the 101 private wells tested in the first round of testing we did in Prince William County in 2022: