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 1940s 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 be 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. In November of 2021, the EPA announced that “negative health effects may occur at much lower levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS than previously understood and that PFOA is a likely carcinogen.” 

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 of 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 are being developed by the EPA; currently the EPA has issued Health Advisory Limits, guidelines which are not legally binding standards.

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)

These HAL’s were dramatically reduced by the EPA in June 2022, to 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS.

The proposed rule on the enforceable standards is expected by the end of 2022, with the final rule expected in Fall of 2023.

There are several states that have set limits for PFOA and PFOS, in the range of 12 to 70 ppt, but given the update by the EPA to the HAL’s, these limits are expected to drop greatly. Texas TCEQ is waiting for the final EPA standards to be issued before proceeding with regulation on PFAS removal from drinking water.

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 to their chemical persistence, contamination of drinking water systems has become a primary concern.

While data collection is ongoing, 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 Treatment

WETS has been monitoring the developing regulatory situation with respect to PFAS and reviewing industry efforts to identify the best methods to remove PFAS from water. Effective technologies for PFAS water treatment 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 from water.

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.


Solutions to Your Water Treatment Needs

Whether you want a new water treatment system installed, need your current one inspected and repaired, or just want a free quote, contact the WETS LLC. With years of experience in the industry, our skilled team members are trained and knowledgeable with a variety of leading water equipment and products. Our certified water purification experts are here to help.