PFAS as a Water Contaminant
PFAS is a reference to a class of poly and perfluoroalkyl substances. The most commonly found and the most studied are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS). Starting in the 1940’s, PFAS have been manufactured and used by a variety of industries. PFAS were utilized for stain and water-repellant and non-stick properties, and are found in a wide variety of consumer products and firefighting foam.
This class of chemicals is very persistent in the environment and in the human body and has received a great deal of attention recently for adverse health effects.
Certain PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA, have been phased from use and are no longer manufactured in the USA. However, they are still produced internationally and can present in imported goods.
The EPA made a preliminary determination to regulate PFOA and PFOS on February 20, 2020; on February 22, 2021, the EPA made a final determination that PFOS and PFOA will be regulated as primary drinking water contaminants under the Safe Water Drinking Act. EPA is now developing the national primary drinking water regulations for PFOS and PFOA, with the specific regulations expected by the end of 2021.
As part of the February 22, 2021 announcement, EPA also announced a program to collect data on additional PFAS, As part of the data collection effort, all public water systems serving 3,300 people or more, and a representative sampling of systems treating fewer than 3,300 people, will be required to collect samples for 29 PFAS substances and lithium, for a twelve month period between January 2023 through December 2025. The purpose of this program is to improve understanding on the presence of these PFAS in the national drinking water supply. Under the regulatory provisions, the EPA is responsible for the analytical costs associated with this monitoring for all systems serving fewer than 10,000 people.
Maximum Contaminant Level
EPA has recently determined that PFOS and PFOA are primary drinking water contaminants. MCL’s to be established in regulations expected by the end of 2021.
In May 2016, the USEPA issued lifetime health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for total PFOA and PFOS present in drinking water or 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for each individual substance. (EPA, 2016)
There are several states that have set limits for PFOA and PFOS, in the range of 12 to 70 ppt. Texas has not set any standards at this time.
Public Health Concern
PFAS substances are man-made chemicals that are very persistent in the environment and in the human body. People are exposed to PFAS in handling the products utilizing these chemicals, and by working in a facility producing or utilizing PFAS, but due their chemical persistence, contamination of drinking water systems has become a primary concern.
While data collection is on-going, it does appear that PFAS contamination is typically localized, associated with a specific facility that produced or used a PFAS, including facilities that used PFAS for firefighting.
There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans, including low birth weights, effects on the immune system, and effects on the liver and kidneys. PFOA has been linked to cancer. PFOS has been linked to thyroid hormone disruption.
WETS has been monitoring the developing regulatory situation with respect to PFAS, and reviewing industry efforts to identify the best means of PFAS removal from drinking water. Effective technologies include activated carbon treatment, ion exchange resins, and high-pressure membranes such as nanofiltration or reverse osmosis.
WETS has entered into a strategic cooperation and master services agreement with Emerging Compounds Treatment Technologies, Inc for providing their media-based treatment services, including activated carbon and ion exchange technologies for PFAS removal.
WETS will continue to monitor the developing situation with respect to PFAS contamination in water. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call and speak with one of our professional engineers.
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