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Are there "forever chemicals" in Wayne County drinking water?

by WayneTimes.com
April 13, 2024

It was not a huge surprise on Wednesday (4/10) that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) issued the first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to harmful per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are prevalent in the environment, and are present in our soil, air, water, and bodies

PFAS are a category of chemicals used since the 1940s to repel oil and water and resist heat, which makes them useful in everyday products such as nonstick cookware, stain resistant clothing, and firefighting foam.

The science is clear that exposure to certain PFAS over a long period of time has been linked to deadly cancers, impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children.

This final rule represents the most significant step to protect public health under EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. The final rule will reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

Wayne County Water & Sewer Authority Director Marty Aman stated that Monroe County Water Authority, is the biggest supplier to his department, with the Town of Ontario and Williamson water plants supplying the rest. He added that Lake Ontario has been a reliable source  with fairly low PFAS chemical pollution, but with the new guidelines it will take time to evaluate the what the next steps will be for water quality. 

EPA’s final rule does not dictate how water systems remove these contaminants. The rule is flexible, allowing systems to determine the best solutions for their community.

• Drinking water utilities can choose from multiple proven treatment options.

• Water treatment technologies exist to remove PFAS chemicals from drinking water, including granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange systems.

• In some cases, systems can close contaminated wells or obtain new uncontaminated source of drinking water.

For example, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, serving Wilmington, NC – one of the communities most heavily impacted by PFAS contamination – has effectively deployed a granular activated carbon system to remove PFAS regulated by this rule. Drinking water systems will have flexibility to determine the best solution for their community.

For two chemicals, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), the Agency’s ideal contamination level is zero. Meaning no exposure to these chemicals whatsoever. Since current testing equipment is limited to a sensitivity of four parts per trillion, the new rules settle for using that as the standard. Other family members see limits of 10 parts per trillion, and an additional limit sets a cap on how much total exposure is acceptable when a mixture of PFAS is present.

EPA estimates that between about 6% and 10% of the 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet these new standards.

All public water systems have three years to complete their initial monitoring for these chemicals. They must inform the public of the level of PFAS measured in their drinking water. Where PFAS is found at levels that exceed these standards, systems must implement solutions to reduce PFAS in their drinking water within five years.

All of that monitoring and decontamination will not come cheap. The EPA estimates that the annual costs will be in the neighborhood of $150 billion, which will likely be passed on to consumers via their water suppliers. Those same consumers, however, are expected to see health benefits that outweigh these costs. EPA estimates place the impact of just three of the health improvements (cancer, cardiovascular, and birth complications) at $150 billion annually. Adding all the benefits of the rest of the health improvements should greatly exceed the costs.

Town of Ontario Superintendent of Water, Michael Hershelman said it is too early to tell just how the new EPA numbers will effect the local water providers. "I’m not especially concerned.

Both Aman and Hershelman said it will take several years and multiple tests to determine the true levels of PFAS contamination under the new standards.

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