By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis
In Part I, we looked at what per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, are and why you should care. In Part II, we looked at their presence in local drinking water. In this final post, we look at the strategies for dealing with PFAS.
Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals widely used in consumer products such as cookware, paper wrappers for fast food, stain repellants, and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals gained widespread attention nationally as well as locally when they began to be detected in the drinking water of some public water systems.
A lack of a cohesive nationwide approach for determining appropriate PFAS levels and actions has resulted in a wide range of state standards for different PFAS compounds. This adds to the confusion for consumers trying to determine how much PFAS in their drinking water is safe.
Three strategies for dealing with emerging contaminants
It’s likely that chemicals, such as PFAS, originating from consumer products will continue to be detected in natural waters as well as treated drinking water. It’s also likely that as consumers of public drinking water, we will continue to prefer that these types of chemicals not be present in our drinking water. With that in mind, here are three strategies that could help.
1. Study chemicals in the marketplace and replace toxic substances with less toxic alternatives
It’s estimated that approximately 2,000 new chemicals are introduced into the U.S. market each year. Few of these chemicals are evaluated for their toxicity and potential environmental impacts in a timely manner.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires USEPA to evaluate new chemicals for safety, but historically, the agency did not have the necessary authority or resources to keep up with this task.
Congress recognized these deficiencies and, in 2016, it passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The act made some important improvements to the process for ensuring safety of chemicals in the marketplace.
Key provisions of the act:
- Mandates safety reviews for chemicals in active commerce.
- Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
- Replaces TSCA’s burdensome, cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented the EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard.
- Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.
The act, however, only required USEPA to begin risk evaluations on 20 chemicals within the first three–and-a-half years of its implementation. Twenty is a very small number when compared to the number of new chemicals entering the market each year. If we can reduce or prevent chemicals that have a high potential of impacting water quality from entering the marketplace, we will have done our water resources a great service.
2. Source water protection is more important than ever
All too often decisions about how to develop land over sensitive aquifers and in close proximity to municipal wellfields are made without appropriate consideration about how the development and activities taking place on that development could impact water quality.
As consumers of public drinking water, we expect that our local governments and public water utilities engage in vigorous efforts to protect their supply of water. This means that economic development plans and activities must align with protection of our source of drinking water.
This alignment implies that some areas over sensitive water resources are not suitable for certain types of development that could pollute or threaten good water quality. A well thought out and proactive source water protection plan is the key to making this happen.
Granular activated carbon Credit: wilsonemi.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/gac-beaker.jpeg
3. Investment in advanced water treatment may be needed
Public expectations often drive investment in new technologies. As new analytical methods lower thresholds for detecting contaminants, water utilities and regulatory agencies will have to deal with the discovery of new chemicals in water. While the concentrations may be extremely small, community members will most likely feel safer if these chemicals are not found in their drinking water.
Water utilities may be faced with the decision to provide advanced water treatment, such as membrane filtration and granular activated carbon filtration, but this level of treatment can be expensive and could raise water rates.
MCD – Helping our region to be water resilient
The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) is committed to helping our region successfully respond to the water challenges that chemicals such as PFAS present to the water resiliency of our communities.
At the request of Congressman Mike Turner, MCD and a group of community and business leaders retained a consultant to assess the City of Dayton’s public water system and all interconnected utilities.
MCD is also working with the United States Geological Survey to evaluate the occurrence of PFAS in groundwater outside of the Dayton metro area. These efforts will help our region protect water for now and into the future.