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Water Utility Shuts Down Wells Following 'Concerning Levels' of PFAS

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, October 28, 2021 at 10:36 am -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives   

The city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin is in the national spotlight for PFAS contamination in drinking water. The city’s water utility provider shut down half of it's wells due to unsafe levels of PFAS earlier this month. PFAS are a category of harmful contaminants that are known to cause cancer and other dangerous health impacts. 

Where Is The PFAS Pollution Coming From?

PFAS pollution has contaminated half of the 16 drinking water wells in the city of Eau Claire. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) believes that the contamination originated from the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire. Airports and military bases are known to be a main source of PFAS contamination due to the excessive use of firefighting foam during training activities. PFAS are a key ingredient in firefighting foam because of their ability to act as a surfactant and suppress fire. You might see PFAS referred to as Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam or AFFF in this particular context. Camp Lejeune, McClellan Air Force Base, Pease Air Force Base, and Gerald R. Ford International Airport are some of the more well known incidences of AFFF contamination. There are however several other sources of PFAS that could be contributing to the contamination, including nearby PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities.

How Is Eau Claire Mitigating The Problem?

One of the most difficult hurdles faced by municipalities across the country is what to do with the PFAS once its contaminated a water supply. The Utilities Manager for the City of Eau Claire stated that they’re currently emptying out their wells and dumping contaminated water into “absorption ponds.” These ponds are a temporary solution and are problematic in their own way. PFAS can still seep from the absorption ponds into surrounding soil and groundwater. The utilities manager said in a recent interview that the absorption ponds are located in an area that “should not impact municipal drinking water.” The absorption ponds also don’t take into consideration the health of aquatic species and other organisms in that habitat. PFAS are known to bioaccumulate in fish, which could indirectly affect humans throughout the food chain.

City officials made the decision not to provide bottled water to its residents, and continue to allow them to drink the contaminated water on the grounds that it’s “under the DNR hazard index level” of 20 parts per trillion. Proactive sampling occurred in 2020, which found that Eau Claire wells had detectable levels of PFAS. In 2021 when the hazard index was introduced in the state of Wisconsin, the utility department determined that PFAS were then problematic. 

What’s Next For The City of Eau Claire?

There are currently no mitigation plans and several unknowns regarding the next steps for the city of Eau Claire. State and local officials are still unsure of the size of the plume, the direction of the plume, and the levels that they are dealing with. The City of Eau Claire has hired an engineering firm to assist with answering some of these questions as well as a cost estimate for future action. The utilities manager did however say that since removing PFAS-contaminated water, PFAS levels had decreased in 5 of the city wells.

Once PFAS are in a water supply it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all of the contamination. Water treatment plants will simply focus on water that’s actually being consumed by members of a community, which includes purchasing proper filtration technologies. It’s important to note that Eau Claire is not the only municipality that has taken water sources “offline” due to PFAS contamination. The community of Bethany Crest, Delaware was told to only use bottled water for drinking and cooking due to “concerning levels” or PFAS. Many municipalities are testing for PFAS for the very first time, so there’s no way of knowing how long PFAS has been a problem in either of these communities. 

Our Take:

The utilities manager in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio stated that “the city of Eau Claire’s water is safe and always has been.” We’ve seen similar statements from public officials in other states when their water was in fact not safe at all. The mayor of Newark, NJ made a similar statement about lead levels that were almost two times higher than the federal limit, claiming that Newark’s water was not only safe, but “some of the best in New Jersey.” We suggest first taking a look at this Environmental Working Group (EWG) map to see if PFAS have been detected in your area. You may also consider purchasing a filter that removes PFAS contaminants

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EPA Announces National Strategy to Confront PFAS Pollution

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, October 18, 2021 at 1:51 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy and Perspectives   

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday, October 18, that the agency will prioritize a comprehensive national strategy to confront PFAS pollution. The Biden-Harris administration campaigned on setting limits in tap water for PFAS and ensuring other actionable protection measures for public health. The PFAS “roadmap”  also includes a summary of recent proposals and recommendations from EPA and Congress. 

What Does EPA's PFAS Roadmap Contain?

The roadmap consists of plans for both rulemaking and monitoring guidelines, but does not have any enforceable criteria. This EPA publication is simply a strategic plan for implementation, not a final rule. The seven actions are as follows:
  • Timeline for nationwide enforceable drinking water limits for PFAS in tap water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

  • Designating PFAS as a “hazardous substance” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. This designation will help hold polluters financially responsible for contaminating source water.

  • A timeline for Effluent Guideline Limitations for nine different industrial categories. 

  • An assessment of shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act and its ability to protect public health.

  • An increase in monitoring, data collection, and research.

  • A final toxicity assessment for GenX.

  • Technical foundation for PFAS air emissions under the Clean Air Act. 

Too Little Too Late?

Hydroviv has been covering PFAS in drinking water since our company began in 2016. Since then, virtually no action has been taken by the EPA or Congress regarding this category of chemicals that is known to cause cancer. The press release for this latest roadmap even stated that the EPA has known about the toxic nature of PFAS chemicals for over 20 years. The impacts of PFAS have now extended across multiple generations, when in all likelihood, this could have been avoided. 

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Does My State Regulate PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water?  

Christina Liu @ Thursday, September 9, 2021 at 2:23 pm -0400

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.


PFAS Water Filters for Easton, Massachusetts

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, April 26, 2021 at 11:16 am -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy   

Recent testing requirements in the State of Massachusetts have forced local governments to take a closer look at the safety of their drinking water. These new requirements have revealed that Easton, Massachusetts, has elevated levels of PFAS in their tap water. This article will address what PFAS compounds are, the levels in Easton drinking water, and water filtration brands that actually remove them. 

PFAS in Easton, Massachusetts

The City of Easton, Massachusetts recently reported that PFAS are present in the city’s drinking water supply. State-level regulations of PFAS chemicals are relatively new, particularly in Massachusetts. Municipal water supplies were not required to even test for PFAS compounds until January 2021, when the state implemented these requirements. Up until that point, people in Easton and many other municipalities in Massachusetts did not know they were being exposed to this potentially cancer-causing chemical. 

In October, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection set an enforceable standard of 20 parts per trillion for the sum of six PFAS compounds in drinking water. The six compounds, called PFAS6, are: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. This regulation means that if a water sample exceeds 20 parts per trillion for all six compounds, that the municipal provider is in violation of the state law. The table below shows elevated levels of PFAS in Easton source water. A more detailed and thorough analysis of these results can be found on the Easton, MA, website dedicated to PFAS testing.   

What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of harmful compounds that can be found in drinking water sources across the country. PFAS can take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment which is why you may see them referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’ PFAS are not currently regulated at the federal level, but some states have created regulations or monitoring criteria, including Massachusetts. They are known to increase the risk of cancer, increase cholesterol, increase the risk of miscarriage by 80-120%, and several other negative health outcomes. According to the National Institute of Health, over 4,700 different PFAS variations have been used in some type of manufacturing since the 1950’s.

Is 20 ppt Safe?

There’s a bit of uncertainty around the “safe level” of exposure to PFAS compounds. There are only a handful of studies that assess associated health impacts, and most agree that more research is necessary to make a determination. In 2016, EPA set a non-enforceable Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for combined PFOA and PFOS. More recent data suggests that this level is far to high to provide meaningful protection against a range of negative health impacts. A recent study also found that a “safe level” or PFAS could be as low as 0.1 parts per trillion. Although the Massachusetts PFAS standard is on the lower end of state limits, our team would rather see even less PFAS allowed in municipal tap water. 

Not All Water Filters Remove PFAS

If you live in Easton and you’re looking for a solution, it’s important to understand that not all water filters are able to remove PFAS chemicals. 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 hello@hydroviv.com

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PFAS Water Filters for Wayland, Massachusetts

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 5:22 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Head of Policy   

The State of Massachusetts recently implemented new testing requirements and water quality standards for 6 different PFAS variations. PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are a federally unregulated contaminant known to cause adverse health effects, including cancer. These new requirements have forced municipalities to take a closer look at the safety of their drinking water. This article will address what PFAS compounds are, the "safe" levels in Massachusetts drinking water, and water filtration brands that actually remove them. 

PFAS in Massachusetts

Massachusetts became one of the first states to adopt drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals in January, 2021. Prior to January of this year, municipal water suppliers throughout Massachusetts were not required to test for PFAS compounds until January 2021, when the state implemented these requirements. Up until that point, people in Wayland did not know they were being exposed to this potentially cancer-causing substance. 

In October, 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection set an enforceable standard of 20 parts per trillion for the sum of six PFAS compounds in drinking water. The six compounds, called PFAS6, are: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. This regulation means that if a water sample exceeds 20 parts per trillion for all six compounds, that the municipal provider is in violation of the state law. The table below shows elevated levels of PFAS in Wayland source water. A more detailed and thorough analysis of these results can be found on the Wayland, MA, website dedicated to PFAS testing.  

 

What Are Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a category of harmful compounds that can be found in drinking water sources across the country. PFAS can take hundreds of years to degrade in the environment which is why you may see them referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’ PFAS are not currently regulated at the federal level, but some states have created regulations or monitoring criteria, including Massachusetts. They are known to increase the risk of cancer, increase cholesterol, increase the risk of miscarriage by 80-120%, and several other negative health outcomes. According to the National Institute of Health, over 4,700 different PFAS variations have been used in some type of manufacturing since the 1950’s.

Is 20 ppt Safe?

There’s a bit of uncertainty around the “safe level” of exposure to PFAS compounds. There are only a handful of studies that assess associated health impacts, and most agree that more research is necessary to make a determination. In 2016, EPA set a non-enforceable Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for combined PFOA and PFOS. More recent data suggests that this level is far to high to provide meaningful protection against a range of negative health impacts. A recent study also found that a “safe level” or PFAS could be as low as 0.1 parts per trillion. Although the Massachusetts PFAS standard is on the lower end of state limits, our team would rather see even less PFAS allowed in municipal tap water. 

Not All Water Filters Remove PFAS

If you live in Wayland and you’re looking for a solution, it’s important to understand that not all water filters are able to remove PFAS chemicals. 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 hello@hydroviv.com

Other Articles We Think You Might Enjoy:
Yale: PFAS Increase The Risk of Miscarriage by 80-120%
PFAS Update: Spring 2021
Why Do Military Bases Have High Levels of PFAS Chemicals?