City water utilities as far-flung as Mobile, AL, Evanston, IL, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, NC, and Thorton, CO are scrambling to explain they are still selling a safe product.

That need comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved the goal posts “on an advisory basis” for acceptable levels of Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water.

The change is dramatic, with one type of PFAS reduced to just .004 parts per trillion, down from 70 ppt. Another compound is cut to .02 ppt, down from 2.0 ppt. The reductions mean some water utilities have some explaining to do for their customers.

EPA announced the actions in June at the third National PFAS Conference in Wilmington, NC. 

The latest EPA actions to deliver clean water are the drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). EPA is also inviting states and territories to apply for $1 billion — the first of $5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant funding — to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, specifically in small or disadvantaged communities. 

Next up, EPA will release the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation in the fall of 2022.

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

PFAS are concentrations of “forever chemicals” linked to cancer and birth defects. Cities like Thorton, CO, have had to explain to customers that their water utility exceeds the new federal advisory levels by more than 1,000 times.

Neither EPA nor Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment recommends Thorton water users switch over to bottled water. Still, they suggest it may be the right time to invest in an in-home treatment and filtering system.

Previously Thorton was best known for transferring water rights from farmland to suburban development. It remains in compliance with federal and state Primary Drinking Water Standards. Thorton, with a population of about 140,000, must notify the public about exceeding the new “forever chemical” limits.

In that public notice, Thorton says: “We recognize the average level of PFOA and PFOS in our monitoring is above the EPA’s new Health Advisory Levels. That is why research is a priority. Our scientists are actively coordinating with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to:

  • Determine the levels of PFAS in our water through additional monitoring and evaluation
  • Investigate established and emerging treatment options
  • Develop feasible strategies to reduce levels of PFAS as the EPA develops and finalizes its
  • future drinking water standards
  • Protect against additional pollution to our source waters

“Public health and high-quality drinking water are our top priority. The lower the level, the lower the risk. As we learn more, we will continue to update you with our findings and strategy.”

EPA’s move to near zero levels tracks scientific research showing the “forever chemicals” are more toxic than once thought. PFAS compounds appeared in products like carpets, cookware, cosmetics, fabrics, and food packaging.

PFAS are a large family of compounds, up to 5,000 chemicals. EPA focuses on a small number of PFAS compounds, which are Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), at very low concentrations over a lifetime, may have health effects.

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