EPA takes first steps to eliminate PFAS from municipal drinking water
PEORIA — A recent health advisory issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has broad implications for drinking water safety in municipalities across the country.
Released on June 15, the advisory acknowledged what scientists had suspected for some time, that the only safe level of what the EPA calls “permanent chemicals” in drinking water is zero. These chemicals have been found in the drinking water of many communities, including Peoria.
According to the EPA, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals used in certain industrial processes and in a variety of products. Due to their slippery properties, PFAS have been used in non-stick coatings for cookware, in packaging, and to make textiles stain resistant. They are also used in personal care products like shampoos, dental floss, and cosmetics. Ultimately, they can also be found in food when fish and livestock are exposed to PFAS in the environment.
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They are forever called chemicals because they do not break down and when ingested they accumulate in the human body. Although the science is still evolving, there is recent evidence that these chemicals are harmful even in small amounts. They have been linked to various health problems, including prostate, kidney and testicular cancers; reproductive disorders and high blood pressure in pregnant women; reduced ability of the immune system to fight infection; and increased levels of cholesterol and obesity, according to the EPA.
What’s in Peoria Water?
According to Illinois American Water’s 2021 Water Quality Report, samples from the Peoria area contained between 0 and 9 parts per thousand of six different per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances in water tests conducted at the start of 2021.
Although neither the Illinois EPA nor the U.S. EPA has developed enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS, the Illinois EPA requires utilities to notify customers when these chemicals exceed recommended levels. For this reason, Illinois American Water issued a notice to Central Illinois customers last fall regarding PFAS in their drinking water.
The notice provided a table detailing each chemical and the amounts found in drinking water during two testing periods in early 2021.
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Karen Cotton, senior director of external communications for Illinois American Water, said the science and regulations surrounding PFAS are evolving.
“This is one of the most changing landscapes when it comes to drinking water contamination,” she said.
Illinois American will continue to work with experts in the field to better understand PFAS in the environment, she said.
“We are also actively evaluating treatment technologies that can effectively remove PFAS from drinking water, as we believe investment in research is essential to addressing this issue,” she said.
What is the plan to remove PFAS from our drinking water?
A total of $5 billion in grants was allocated in a bipartisan infrastructure plan passed by the federal government last year to help communities facing disproportionate impacts from PFAS contamination, according to the EPA. Funds can be used by small or disadvantaged communities for technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training and installation of centralized treatment systems.
While federal funding promises are helpful, it’s only a drop in the bucket for what’s needed across the country, when a single well filter can cost $500,000. according to USA TODAY.
Emily Remmel, director of regulatory affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents wastewater, water and sewer utilities across the country, wants the EPA to take more action to get rid of PFAS at the source, because they often come from everyday life. consumer products that people use and throw down the drain.
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“Wash your clothes, wash your face, wash your dishes,” Remmel said.
She also wants the EPA to do a better job at the local level helping with the public health and financial burdens created by PFAS.
“It shouldn’t be on the backs of municipalities, taxpayers,” Remmel said.
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.