By Luanne McGovern
One of the Conservancy’s priorities for the 2023 legislative session is the passage of the Clean Drinking Water Act of 2023, modeled after HB4055 from the 2022 session [HB 4055 – 2022]. This act would take the first steps in West Virginia to regulate and treat Per -and Poly-fluoralkyl substances (collectively referred to as PFAS) in public drinking water systems.
It seems that one can barely pick up a newspaper or watch a news report without hearing about PFAS and the potential for adverse health effects from their presence. It can be overwhelming, and the sheer volume of potential environmental contamination is quite staggering. What can be done?
What are PFAS Chemicals?
The PFAS chemical family consists of thousands of chemicals all characterized by long chains of carbon and fluorine molecules, abbreviated as CnF2n+1– in chemical nomenclature. These chemicals are exceedingly stable and are found in thousands of common applications, primarily for their non-stick and water-resistant properties.
Cookware like Teflon, water resistant clothing like Gore-Tex, parchment paper used for baking, grease proof food packaging like disposable plates, pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags, some shampoos and sunscreens, stain resistant coatings on carpets and upholstery – all these contain various PFAS chemicals. Since these substances are so ubiquitous in our everyday lives, it is estimated that each of us have PFAS in our bodies.
Why are we concerned about PFAS?
More and more studies are exposing the links between PFAS exposure and a variety of health issues, including kidney and testicular cancer, autoimmunity, immune suppression, neurodevelopmental disorders, thyroid disease, preeclampsia, and decreased fertility, among others. Consumption of contaminated drinking water and food, inhalation of indoor air and dust, and use of consumer products represent the primary PFAS exposure pathways for the general population. Most West Virginians are familiar with the contamination and subsequent health issues in the Parkersburg area, as the result of long-term industrial pollution from the DuPont Teflon manufacturing plant in Washington, West Virginia.
What is being done in West Virginia?
In February 2020, Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 initiated a “public source-water supply study plan to sample perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances for all community water systems in West Virginia.” [SCR 46 Text] The study, just released in July 2022, tested pre-treatment water at 279 public water systems across the state, and at least one PFAS was detected at 67 water systems. [WV PFAS Study] At the time of the study, the 2016 United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water was 70 ng/L. In June 2022 the EPA updated their advisory to 0.004 ng/L for PFOA and 0.02 ng/L for PFOS.
The highest levels of contamination were detected in the Parkersburg area, as expected, and in the Eastern panhandle. The highest level detected,1540 ng/L of PFOA, was at Lubeck Public Services District near Parkersburg, 22 times the 2016 EPA guideline, or 385,000 times the current guideline! At least 36 additional sites greatly exceeded the updated EPA guidelines.
This statewide study is an excellent first step to understand the potential issues with PFAS in West Virginia drinking water and provide prioritization for remediation. It also provides West Virginia citizens with concrete data with which to approach their local and state representatives for further action. It is important to realize that PFAS contamination is not limited to industrial areas or large cities. Detectable levels of PFAS chemicals over the current EPA guidelines have been found in the drinking water systems of Davis, Sistersville, Belington, Hurricane and Moorefield, to name a few.
The West Virginia Clean Water Drinking Act of 2023 seeks to create legislation to:
- Set state specific maximum contaminant levels for certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
- Establish the West Virginia PFAS Action Response Team (WV-PART). This team would research, identify and recommend PFAS response actions for contaminated sites.
- Require facilities using PFAS chemicals to report their use.
For more in-depth information on PFAS and to stay updated during the 2023 legislative session:
Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center | U.S. Geological Survey (usgs.gov)