PFAS

What are PFAS?

 

“PFAS” stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of thousands of man-made chemical compounds used since the 1940s for military, space, firefighting, and commercial purposes.  They are known as “forever chemicals” due to their unique abilities to resist high and low temperatures and avoid degradation. 

 

Because of PFAS’ unique ability to keep materials from sticking to surfaces, they have been used extensively in consumer goods such as carpets, clothing, food packaging, furniture, and cookware (Teflon was one of the first PFAS produced and sold to the public).  They are also a chief component of cosmetics and fire-fighting foam.

 

Because PFAS are extremely durable, they persist in the environment long after they have been thrown out, washed away, or, unfortunately, released into rivers, streams, and groundwater through pollution.

 

How Common are PFAS?

 

Because of the widespread use of PFAS and their persistence in the environment, they are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment.

 

PFAS have been discovered in water, air, fish, and soil across the nation and around the globe.  The EPA has stated that approximately 80% of a person’s exposure to PFAS comes from consumer goods such as cookware, cosmetics, food wrappings, stain/water-resistant clothing, and carpet and furniture treatments.  It is even found in dental floss, toilet paper, feminine products, and facial moisturizers.

 

Are There Health Risks?

 

Researchers are working to better understand how harmful PFAS are to people and the environment. This process includes conducting long, in-depth evaluations of a few specific PFAS known to impact a person’s health, as well as shorter scientific studies that provide baseline information about many other substances.

 

PFOA and PFOS are two individual PFAS compounds believed to have adverse health effects at very low concentrations. Because of these properties, PFOA and PFOS were phased out of production by U.S. manufacturers in the mid-2000s. However, PFOA and PFOS can still be imported into the U.S. through everyday consumer goods and can still exist in the environment due to earlier pollution.

 

Recent peer-reviewed science indicates a specific mixture of PFAS could pose a health risk greater than each chemical on its own, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is making preliminary regulatory determinations for four more PFAS:  PFNA, HFPO-DA (GenX), PFHxS, and PFBS. 

 

Is PFAS in Drinking Water?

 

Water and wastewater utilities like FCWSA do not create or produce any PFAS, nor do we manufacture any products containing PFAS.  However, it is possible for PFAS to be found in drinking water where pollution of a utility’s source water(s) has occurred.

The EPA is responsible for setting regulatory limits under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  It recently proposed drinking water standards that would set allowable limits (Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCLs) for six PFAS chemicals:  PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, HFPO-DA (GenX), PFHxS, and PFBS.

 

The MCLs for PFOA and PFOS are proposed at 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt) each, and a separate Hazard Index is proposed addressing the mixture of PFNA, HFPO-DA (GenX), PFHxS, and PFBS.  Public comment and scientific review processes have taken place throughout 2023.  

 

After these reviews are complete, the EPA’s final drinking water standards will likely be announced in December 2023 or January 2024.  It is important to note any PFAS MCLs are not enforceable drinking water standards until at least three years after the EPA finalizes them.

 

FCWSA is not aware of any specific PFAS contamination sources in any FCWSA-owned water system.  However, because PFAS are very prevalent throughout the environment at low levels, FCWSA is joining utilities across the state to test for PFAS.  In 2021, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) conducted PFAS sampling at some of the largest water systems in Virginia, and several nearby Northern Virginia water systems had at least one sample exceeding the EPA’s newly proposed regulations.

 

In 2023, FCWSA initiated testing in our largest water system, the New Baltimore Regional Waterworks. FCWSA is also participating in testing with VDH for testing of our smaller water systems, and will continue testing after the VDH testing program is complete.  FCWSA has received results from nine samples for the water system, indicating a range of results both above and below the EPA’s proposed regulations.  As additional results are received for our water systems, we will update the results below.

 

FCWSA Water System

PFOA

PFOS

Hazard Index Addressing

PFNA, HFPO-DA PFHxS, and PFBS

EPA Proposed MCL

4.0 ppt

4.0 ppt

1.0 (unitless)

New Baltimore Regional

0.0 – 4.9 ppt

0.0 – 11.5 ppt

0.0 – 0.56

Bealeton Regional

15 ppt*

11 ppt*

0.48*

Whitewood Forest

1.6 ppt*

0.9 ppt*

0.07*

Paris

0.5 ppt*

0.6 ppt*

0.07*

Auburn Crossing

1 ppt*

2.1 ppt*

0.23*

Fauquier County Botha

11 ppt*

8.8 ppt*

2.58*

Marshall

Testing Scheduled December/January

Opal

Testing Scheduled December/January

Town of The Plains

Testing Scheduled December/January

Catlett

Testing Scheduled December/January

Waterloo Estates

Testing Scheduled December/January

The Meadows / Ridge

Testing Scheduled December/January

Bethel Academy

Testing Scheduled December/January

Green Meadows

Testing Scheduled December/January

Turnbull

Testing Scheduled December/January

* Testing completed by VDH during 2023. Under the VDH survey only half of the supply to the Bealeton Regional Water Treatment Facility was tested – FCWSA will test the entirety of the system.

 

FCWSA is in the process of evaluating treatment processes that will ensure our water will meet the EPA’s final standards, and we will act as necessary to meet future state and federal regulations.

 

What Does This Mean for FCWSA Water Customers

 

PFAS detections at the levels found during our testing are not considered emergencies or regulatory violations.  If they had been, FCWSA would have been notified within 24 hours.  It is again important to remember the EPA’s proposed PFAS MCLs are not enforceable drinking water standards at this time and will not be enforceable until at least three years after they are finalized.

 

If you are concerned about potential health effects from exposure to these PFAS above the health advisory level, the EPA encourages you to contact your doctor or health care professional.

 

At this time, EPA is not recommending bottled water for communities based solely on concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water, and PFAS has been found in some brands of bottled water.

 

Unlike drinking water, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there are currently no FDA Standards of Quality (SOQs) or testing requirements for PFAS in bottled water.

 

Vint Hill Waterworks

 

Vint Hill Waterworks is owned by the Buckland Water and Sanitation Assets Corporation; they own the entire system, including responsibility for its permits, pipes, wells, water towers, etc.  The Army base at Vint Hill operated from about 1942 to 1997. In 1999, the US Department of the Army conveyed all of Vint Hill to the Vint Hill Economic Development Authority (VHEDA), including the water system.  In 2014, VHEDA sold the water system to Buckland Water and Sanitation Assets Corporation.

 

FCWSA provided daily licensed operations of the water system for the VHEDA, and continues to provide similar services for Buckland Water, including required drinking water sampling.  Because PFAS testing is not required in Vint Hill, Buckland has not hired FCWSA to collect PFAS samples.  However, we understand Buckland has contracted someone else to conduct PFAS sampling.

 

FCWSA is aware that the Department of the Army has identified PFOA and PFOS contamination in two (future) unused wells of the Vint Hill water system owned by Buckland Water and Sanitation Assets Corporation.  While FCWSA does not own the Vint Hill Waterworks, we are working with Buckland on a solution to keep these water sources viable for future use. 

 

How Can I Reduce My PFAS Exposure

 

EPA has stated that approximately 80% of a person’s exposure to PFAS comes from consumer goods. Many companies are working to remove PFAS from their products, but until the removal is complete, consumer products including nonstick cookware, stain repellants, and waterproofing may have PFAS. PFAS are also found in certain types of dental floss, toilet paper, nail polish, facial moisturizers, cosmetics, and more.

 

  • Read ingredient lists and choose products without PTFE or perfluoro- or polyfluor- in their names.
  • Ask manufacturers if their products contain PFAS because these chemicals are often not listed. Also, if a product states it is “PFOA-” or “PFOS-free,” that does not mean it is free of all PFAS.
  • Avoid non-stick cookware. Cook with stainless steel, cast iron, glass, or ceramic pots and pans.
  • Look for coats, hats, and boots labeled “water-resistant.” They are less likely to have PFAS than waterproof products.
  • Avoid ordering food in grease-resistant wrappers or containers. Food packaging that may have PFAS includes microwave popcorn bags, fast food boxes, paper wrappings, and bakery bags.
  • Minimize the dust in your home to limit PFAS particles in the air by changing your home’s air filter on a regular basis and leaving your shoes at the door to avoid tracking in dirt and pollutants.
  • Avoid carpets and upholstery treated to be stain or water-resistant or decline stain treatment.

 

Additional Resources

 

http://www.epa.gov/pfas

http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/drinking-water/pfas/

http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html

https://drinktap.org/Water-Info/Whats-in-My-Water/Per-and-Polyfluoroalkyl-Substances