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Is Your Drinking Water System Among Hundreds Flagged for PFAS?

After gathering test results on hazardous “forever chemicals” for over a year, the EPA has revealed that nearly 300 of America’s public drinking water systems – including some serving large populations – have exceeded newly set yearly limits. These utilities may now need to install filtration systems or explore alternative water sources to comply with updated regulations that restrict PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances). PFAS, known for their resilience, have been associated with accumulating in human bodies, increasing the risk of certain cancers and other serious health issues.

This number is expected to rise in the coming years as more utilities submit their test findings. Last month, the EPA estimated that around one in ten, or over 6,000 systems, could eventually require corrective actions to rid their water of PFAS. Since January 2023, thousands of water systems have been testing for over two dozen variations of these compounds, marking the EPA’s most extensive effort to monitor PFAS spread nationwide. Public systems serving at least 3,300 customers must sample their drinking water semiannually or quarterly throughout the year and provide the results to the EPA.

These findings offer glimpses into PFAS levels, with the EPA mandating changes only if a sample site’s running annual average surpasses the new limits. Additionally, the agency has granted water systems a five-year window to treat their water before enforcing the new rule. Water from these systems ultimately reaches approximately 47 million people. The EPA’s data now covers PFAS test results from 4,750 water systems, with over 1,000 newly included systems showing promising outcomes, including major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Tucson, Boston, and Portland.

Efforts to eliminate PFAS from water are underway in various areas. For example, in Fort Worth, where surface water from a nearby lake is used, annual averages for three PFAS chemicals exceeded the new limits at two water treatment plants. Mary Gugliuzza, a spokesperson for Fort Worth Water, outlined plans for a treatment process utilizing granular activated carbon, recognizing the associated costs and seeking federal aid to ease the burden on ratepayers.

Likewise, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority in Pensacola is moving forward with adding granular activated carbon filtration to wells detecting PFAS chemicals, with a $2 million investment planned for a treatment system. Legal actions against manufacturers of firefighting foams have also been initiated due to groundwater contamination. In Western Nassau County, the Water Authority has been installing PFAS treatment on contaminated wells, adhering to both state and federal regulations despite facing challenges and additional expenses.

Veolia Water, a major private water service operator, is also tackling PFAS concerns. With some systems surpassing new limits, Veolia is constructing a treatment facility in Delaware equipped with carbon filters to reduce PFAS to undetectable levels. The project’s costs are likely to be recuperated through adjustments to customer rates. Despite the financial implications, the necessity of addressing PFAS contamination is underscored, emphasizing the importance of ensuring water safety for all.

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