Does My State Regulate PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water?RSS
Christina Liu, B.S., Science Team, and Analies Dyjak, M.A., Head of Policy
States are responding to the nationwide PFAS crisis by implementing testing or removal requirements in municipal tap water. Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have been detected in an increasingly alarming number of municipalities across the United States. Recent studies indicate that 200 million Americans drink tap water contaminated with PFAS chemicals. There are currently no federal regulations that require water providers to address this harmful tap water contaminant.
What Are PFAS And Why Are They a Concern?
PFAS are toxic and can potentially cause cancer even at extremely small concentrations. They’re measured in parts per trillion, and one part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Because PFAS are a new and emerging contaminant, extremely small, and don’t break down in the environment, they’re difficult to remove from drinking water at the municipal treatment level. If you’re curious about the other health impacts associated with exposure to PFAS chemicals, click here.
No Federal Water Quality Standards for PFAS Chemicals
The federal government implements water quality standards to protect human health. Lead, Arsenic, and Disinfection Byproducts have nationwide standards because they are known to cause negative health impacts at certain concentrations. Water quality standards however must consider the cost of removing a contaminant and the feasibility for any given community, compromising their overall effectiveness. There are currently no federal water quality standards for PFAS chemicals, despite their known toxicity in drinking water. EPA established a non-enforceable Health Advisory of 70 parts per trillion for an aggregate of two PFAS variations, PFOA and PFOS, in 2016.
“My state has a guidance level for PFAS so therefore I must be protected.” This isn’t entirely true. Unfortunately Health Advisories, Health Goals, Guidance Levels, and other similar legalese are non-enforceable. State officials can make recommendations but it’s really up to municipalities to implement necessary changes. The tables below describe the most current* state regulations and advisories for PFAS levels in drinking water.
Enforceable: Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) & Action Level (AL)
Non-Enforceable: Health Advisory Level, Health Goal, Guidance Level, Notification Level
States With PFAS Regulations*
*Current regulations as of April 12, 2022
State Regulation Updates
Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Department of Health Services initially recommended a MCL of 20 parts per trillion. However, on February 22, 2022, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board voted instead to approve a drinking water standard of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS. Legislative approval is still needed before this standard becomes part of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, Chapter NR 809.
Pennsylvania: On November 16, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) approved its proposed rule to set MCLs of 14 ppt for PFOA, and 18 ppt for PFOS. The proposed rule is anticipated to be published in the PA Bulletin in 2022 for a 60-day public comment period, and at least five public hearings will be held.
Delaware: The first public meetings regarding the proposal for PFAS regulatory levels were held in March, 2022, with an anticipated final published rule in October 2022. The primary MCLs in the Delaware Regulations for Public Drinking Water Systems are proposed to be 14 ppt for PFOS, and 21 ppt for PFOA. If the sum of PFOS and PFOA exceeds 17 ppt, (the sum of approximately 50% of each individual MCL) this will also be considered an exceedance.
What Does This Mean For My Drinking Water?
PFAS contamination is likely to become more pervasive and widespread in the future, and regulatory action, if it happens, will be implemented slowly, even at the state and municipal levels. States that have implemented MCL’s or enforceable regulations are then faced with an important challenge: how to remove PFAS at the municipal level and how to pay for it. When a regulation is implemented, a municipality is required to do whatever it takes to make sure it’s in compliance with the law to avoid fines and violations. EPA has identified a handful of technologies that can help reduce PFAS in drinking water. Unfortunately these technologies are often expensive and require regular maintenance to ensure they’re working as intended.
For example, the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina is one of the few water utilities to purchase PFAS-removal technology. The filters cost $46 million upfront, with annual operating costs of $2.9 million. It’s important to mention that the PFAS-removal technology was only purchased for one of the three water treatment plants for the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. PFAS have still been detected in the other two water treatment plants. Removing PFAS at the municipal level is expensive and requires regular maintenance.
Our Take: Not All Water Filters Remove PFAS
If you live in one of the states without state or local water quality standards for PFAS, it’s important to understand that these harmful chemicals could be present in your tap water. We advise these residents to use a filter that’s been NSF Certified for removal of PFOA and PFOS. Duke University completed a study in 2020 that tested various filtration brands and their ability to remove PFAS from drinking water. The results found that popular brands including Brita and Pur did not do a good job of removing PFAS compounds. Refrigerator filters tested by the Duke research team, including; Samsung, Whirlpool, and GE, also failed to remove PFAS. The full results of this study can be found here. Hydroviv filters are both NSF certified and third-party tested to remove PFAS chemicals. To request our full testing and removal data, please email email@example.com.
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Links to State PFAS Information:
Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, updated Delaware Regs, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin