May 19, 2024

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Norman meets new EPA limits of PFAS chemicals in water | News

4 min read

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency established new, legally enforceable drinking water regulations aimed at limiting the amount of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in water supplies.  

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that were discovered in the late 1930s and are often in consumer and industrial products. Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS break down slowly and can contaminate air, water and soil.

The new regulations will lower the maximum containment level of six PFAS. When excessive levels of these contaminants are found, water system operators must implement solutions to reduce PFAS levels in drinking water within five years.  

The maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS are now four parts per trillion. For PFHxS, HFPO-DA and PFNA, the new standard is 10 parts per trillion. 

According to the EPA, parts per trillion is equivalent to one drop in one trillion gallons.  

The standard for mixtures containing two or more of the PFAS chemicals PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA or PFBS has also changed. The new maximum contaminant level is a hazard index of one. The EPA hazard index is a formula used to determine the level of the chemicals in a sample. The result cannot exceed one. 

The EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule requires monitoring and reporting by public water systems of 29 PFAS levels. The most recent report was published on Jan. 11. Samples were collected four times from Oct. 3-24.

Data from the report shows Norman’s PFOS and PFOA levels were below the minimum reporting level of 4 parts per trillion, indicating Norman is already within the new regulations set by the EPA. 

PFOS and PFOA are the most common PFAS chemicals. Although they are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are often found in water and soil. 

The new regulations also require routine testing by water utilities moving forward. Officials in Norman seem welcoming to the new testing requirements. 

Chris Mattingly, Norman utilities director, said he needs to know more about the level of PFAS in Norman’s water before implementing changes to ensure future compliance with the new EPA regulations. 

“We just need more because you’ve got to see, is this a one (off), you know? Do we have a trend here?” Mattingly said.  

While Mattingly wants more information before making any changes, he envisions having to make improvements down the line.  

“Right now, we have five years to be ready to meet all limits and, right now, we’re meeting them,” Mattingly said. “But like I said, we don’t have anything designed. So probably what we’ll be doing is going out for a consultant to help us with this process to look at what kind of treatment device should we invest in.”

Mattingly also said the city could pursue federal funding if they decide to begin implementing PFAS treatment devices. He added the city would likely go after funding such as the newly available $1 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

For now, Mattingly said he would like to see manufacturers scale back from using PFAS in so many products. 

PFAS can be in almost anything. Common uses include stain-resistant material, firefighting foam and nonstick packaging. 3M and DuPont commonly use PFAS in their products. 

According to a 2016 study by the EPA, food can contain PFAS. The study concluded that diet and food may be the primary source of PFAS in humans. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, PFAS make their way into our food through soil and water. 

“Unfortunately, PFAS have been spread everywhere from groundwater to surface water. So, they are found in both drinking water and agriculture water supplies,” wrote Reza Foudazi, an OU engineering professor, in an email to OU Daily. 

Exposure to PFAS is common. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans. The report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

A study published by Environment International estimated that PFAS can be found in 45% of American drinking water samples.  

While common, exposure to PFAS can lead to serious health issues. A 2021 study published by Environmental Research found an association between PFAS and testicular and kidney cancers. A 2023 study published by Environmental Health Perspectives found a delay in puberty onset among females exposed to PFAS. Delays are typically five to six months long but can be longer.  

The EPA has known about the risk of PFAS for over 25 years. In 1998, a document was sent to the EPA by 3M, stating that PFAS contents build up in the blood over time. 

For residents concerned about PFAS in their drinking water, Foudazi recommended buying water from refill stations using multiple filtration devices. 

This story was edited by Anusha Fathepure and Peggy Dodd. Grace Rhodes copy edited this story.

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