By Olivia Miller
In recent months, our government officials at both the state and federal level have stepped up to address the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, in our drinking water.
A coordinated effort has been made by many dedicated environmental groups in the Mountain State to bring awareness to this issue, and subsequent public outcry over the widespread persistence of these harmful pollutants in our day-to-day lives has united us to finally something about this problem.
At the culmination of the West Virginia legislative session, the PFAS Protection Act was passed and signed into law to address PFAS contamination in the state.
Just a few days later on March 14, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever national drinking water standards for six PFAS in an attempt to protect the public from further pollution.
As a brief recap, PFAS are a class of man-made industrial chemicals that have contaminated people, drinking water, and food, including fish and wildlife. Numerous scientific studies have discovered these chemicals to be carcinogenic, cause reproductive harm, damage our immune systems, among other serious health concerns—even at low levels. They are frequently called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in our bodies. (See the December 2022 issue of The Highlands Voice issue for a more thorough breakdown of PFAS.)
It is certainly difficult to shake off the fact that many Americans have been unknowingly drinking PFAS contaminated water and consuming them in various other forms for decades, but the new regulations are a step in the right direction for protecting the public from further pollution.
The EPA’s proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS — PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals — as a mixture.
- PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
- PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has until Sept. 3, 2024, to finalize the new drinking water standards. Drinking water utilities will then likely have three to five years to comply.
In the final days of the 2023 West Virginia legislative session, the PFAS Protection Act — designed to address PFAS contamination in the state — passed the Senate unanimously and has since been signed into law.
Here are a few takeaways from the PFAS Protection Act:
- The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has been tasked with writing a PFAS action plan to identify and address sources of PFAS by July 1, 2024, for each of the 37 raw water sources in West Virginia for which a U.S. Geological Survey study found significant levels of PFAS. The first 50 plans will be completed by Dec. 31, 2025, and the remaining plans will be completed by Dec. 31, 2026.
- Public water systems will now be required to notify their customers of the presence of PFAS in their water.
- Industries will now be required to report and monitor their use and discharge of PFAS.
The proposed limits set by the EPA and the passage of the PFAS Protection Act in West Virginia highlight how undeniably toxic these chemicals are to our health, and we must hold polluters accountable for their mess moving forward.