HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, citing health concerns, announced proposed new standards for PFAS chemical levels in drinking water.
The proposal would move the current health advisory guideline of 70 parts per trillion to just 4 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA chemicals and create a formal standard.
The PFAS chemicals are used in a wide variety of consumer products – creating a barrier against liquids and oils – and they do not break down easily in water. 3M in Decatur made the chemicals for decades before discontinuing PFAS and PFOS production in the early 2000s. Last week, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the new proposed rules are aimed at combatting health effects linked to the chemicals including some cancers, thyroid and developmental problems, and high cholesterol.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which has a cleanup agreement with 3M to clean up PFAS contamination in North Alabama, said that since 2020 it has required Alabama’s public drinking water systems to test for PFAS. ADEM has a list on its website of all of its most recent PFAS testing data for water systems across the state.
(Editor’s Note: This list is 68 pages long. The list is in alphabetical order to make searching for your water company a little bit easier.)
Following EPA’s announcement last week, ADEM said based on that testing data about 70 public water systems out of 587 overall may need to take further steps to meet the proposed standards.
The EPA’s proposed rules have not been finalized. Regan said last week he hopes to have the rule formally in place by the end of the year. The proposed requirement is a much tougher standard than the prior advisory standard.
After 3M produced those chemicals for decades, contaminating water across the area, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority received a $35 million settlement with 3M for drinking water cleanup. The system then spent more than $30 million on an advanced reverse osmosis filtration system, meaning for several other companies, things could get expensive.
ADEM said it has already allocated $32 million for water systems to deal with PFAS and the EPA has committed more than $50 million for smaller communities in Alabama to deal with PFAS. But obviously, next to one filtration system which costs $30 million, that money could go pretty fast.
Both ADEM and EPA have pledged to provide money to assist with drinking water cleanup. Decatur Utilities said that last fall it hired an engineering firm to look at PFAS treatment options at its water treatment plant. The company sent a statement to News 19:
“In anticipation of the recent release of the EPA’s proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels for certain PFAS chemicals including PFOS and PFOA, DU proactively engaged Jacobs Engineering, a nationally-renowned expert in PFAS treatment, last fall to perform a study that will recommend PFAS treatment alternatives for the DU water treatment plant.Ray Hardin, Decatur Utilities General Manager
We are still very early in this process. DU takes compliance with EPA standards very seriously. Our customers can rest assured that DU will take the steps necessary to comply with the new standards once they are finalized. Our mission has always been – and continues to be – providing safe drinking water that meets or exceeds all EPA mandates for safety and quality.
Decatur Utilities, along with other public water systems, will have three years to comply with the new PFAS standards after the final EPA rule is issued following a period of time allocated by EPA for public hearing and comment. Compliance with the new standards will include monitoring for PFAS, notifying the public of levels of PFAS, and reducing the levels of PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the proposed standards.”
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