| EPA proposes first-ever drinking water standards for six PFAS
AWWA Articles

EPA proposes first-ever drinking water standards for six PFAS

U.S. water utilities are working to absorb details of the first national primary drinking water standard for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Scientist in lab looking through microscopeEPA’s proposal, announced March 14, includes maximum contaminant levels for six PFAS and is expected to be finalized by the end of 2023. The agency is requesting public comment once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

PFAS are widely present in thousands of products in the industrial, food and textile industries, including firefighting foams, food packaging, cleaning products and household items like non-stick cookware. Sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” they may contribute to adverse health impacts with long-term exposure.

The proposed regulation would require public water systems to monitor for six PFAS, notify the public about the levels of those PFAS, and reduce their levels in drinking water if they exceed the proposed levels. The listed PFAS are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA or GenX).

In response to last week’s EPA announcement, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) released a statement supporting the establishment of national drinking water standards for PFAS “using the best available science.”

“We stand for transparency, and support requirements for utilities to actively share PFAS monitoring results and other water quality information with consumers,” the statement affirmed. “We support sound scientific process to create regulations in which the public health benefits outweigh the costs.”

In anticipation of EPA’s proposal and the resulting need for costly treatment, AWWA requested a study conducted by Black & Veatch to estimate the national cost for water systems to install treatment to remove PFOA and PFOS to required levels. The estimated cost will be in excess of $3.8 billion annually, according to the study, and the vast majority of the treatment costs will be borne by communities and ratepayers.

“Understanding the real costs associated with removing PFAS from drinking water is vital to strategic planning, policy making, and successfully implementing systems to cost-effectively meet regulatory and public health goals,” said Adam Feffer, drinking water process engineer with Black & Veatch.

Chris Moody, AWWA’s regulatory technical manager, emphasized that protecting public health is paramount, but water utilities also must effectively balance and manage the use of ratepayer funds.

“The removal of PFAS from drinking water will require significant investments and the work by Black & Veatch will be key to assisting the EPA in better characterizing the rule impacts,” he added.

More information about PFAS and AWWA resources are available here.