Our Fight Against the “Forever Chemicals” 

A variety of chemicals have the ability to impact the quality and safety of our drinking water. Some are more obvious than others such as, lead, nitrate, chlorine, etc. All of these chemicals are well known contaminants that water workers strive to prevent. However, there are other chemicals to be aware of like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or the “forever chemicals”. These types of chemicals can enter our drinking water systems unbeknownst to us. Luckily, our water treatment experts are rigorously testing for such chemicals, and we can all do our part to keep these chemicals out of our waterways.

What is PFAS, what products contain it and how does it impact our drinking water? 

PFAS is a collection of chemicals commonly used since the 1940s as advanced lubricant coatings that have allowed manufacturers to create a spectrum of products with heat protectant, stain repellant, degreasing and waterproofing super powers. We come into contact with PFAS in a variety of ways, often without knowing, because they appear in numerous every day, highly used products like food packaging, non-stick pans, waterproof and stain-proof clothing, medical equipment, personal care products, and much more. Because these chemicals are so widely used, they have been entering our water systems through actions as simple as washing clothes or cleaning dishes. On larger scales, manufacturers of the above-mentioned products release PFAS during their processes that ultimately enter our water systems as well.

It was not until the late 1960s when researchers began to discover the potential negative health impacts of PFAS on the human body within the industrial realm. However, as PFAS became more widely used over the years for a variety of products, increasing the amount of people being exposed, researchers began to really focus on understanding its health effects. With human epidemiological studies, researchers began to identify that high volume exposure to PFAS could cause many health risks including increased cholesterol levels, kidney functioning, thyroid disease, and liver damage because it impacts the body’s immune response.  

In December 2022, global manufacturer 3M committed to removing all PFAS chemicals from its production by the end 2025, and in its announcement, a potential signal of how the industry is responding to the evolving understanding of PFAS’ impacts to our environments.

How can you help keep your local tap water safe from PFAS? 

There are many ways for people to decrease their risk of PFAS exposure and our partner agencies are working hard to decrease the risk of exposure to PFAS for their communities. Our partner agencies are utilizing new systems and strategies such as improving their lab methods, expanding their testing to identify sources of PFAS in their water, and making sure facilities who use PFAS are avoiding serving water. You can also help minimize your exposure to PFAS at home by avoiding the use of products in your home that contain PFAS coatings or materials. Since PFAS chemicals are stable and long lasting, hence their nickname, avoiding adding new chemicals into our water is critically important. 

What are we doing to eliminate PFAS? 

Since PFAS is so ubiquitous, it is important to take proactive steps to test, treat and address it in our water supplies. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant fund program to help tackle PFAS in drinking water and encourages all water providing facilities to apply. Additionally, the EPA has been working to label PFAS as a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) hazardous substance to allow more accountability and transparency with facilities who use PFAS and contaminate our water systems. The mandates that water agencies test for PFAS, results of water quality tests are included in annual reports. Target thresholds have been set, and our partner agencies conduct required tests to ensure that our shared water systems are at or below stated goals. Our partner agencies are actively working to address PFAS and making sure that quality water is available for customers throughout our service areas.

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