Health, infrastructure costs of PFAS in the billions; Who should pay for it?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it will cost $772 million per year for drinking water systems to comply with proposed new guidelines for “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

Activists with the Environmental Working Group believe local governments should not be footing the bill for PFAS remediation — rather, companies and agencies that expelled the pollutant into the environment should be responsible for costs related to the clean-up.

Public water systems in Bellbrook and Fairborn, among other cities across the nation, were recently named in a $10.3 billion settlement with PFAS manufacturer 3M Co., a company that produced products with PFAS. Leaders of both cities say they will use settlement money to address PFAS in their water.

EWG Senior Scientist Tasha Stoiber said as governments come into compliance with the new standards, people concerned about PFAS can use their own filters to protect them against PFAS in their drinking water.

EWG found in a study of filters that reverse osmosis systems are the most effective. These systems are often costly and not renter-friendly, however, so water pitchers with activated carbon filters also help filter out PFAS, Stoiber said.

Read the whole project:

- PFAS detected in 15 local public water systems over proposed EPA guidelines

- Experts discuss how PFAS got into our water, and efforts to eliminate ‘forever chemicals’

- Dayton says they’re working to address PFAS, but won’t go into detail

- Concerned about PFAS contamination? Here’s 5 things you can do at home

- Health, infrastructure costs of PFAS in the billions; Who should pay for it?

The U.S. EPA estimates that public water systems complying with a low legal standard will save Americans roughly $1.2 billion in healthcare costs.

Although research regarding the long-term health implications of PFAS exposure are ongoing, initial reports point to PFAS’ link to liver, bladder and even certain kinds of lung cancer, as well as links to issues related to the immune system. Exposure to PFAS in utero may also have an impact on developing children, with effects that aren’t reversible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The more that we study (PFAS), the more that we’re finding they do have impacts on the immune system, impacts on hormones in the body, reproductive effects,” Stoiber said. “There’s a whole host of health effects that these chemicals are associated with, and that’s why we’re concerned about them.”

According to the CDC, most people living in the U.S. and other industrialized countries have measurable amounts of PFAS in their blood. At much lower levels, PFAS has also been detected at much lower levels in urine, breast milk and umbilical cord blood.

Regulation of PFAS: what’s changing?

Since 2016, federal guidance suggested that drinking water concentrations for PFOA and PFOS — the most common types of PFAS — either singly or combined, should not exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The Ohio EPA designated this limit as its “action level.”

As early as next year, the federal EPA will be creating a new legal standard of 4 ppt for PFOS and PFOA.

This proposed maximum contamination level (MCL) is a bold new step in protecting drinking water, with federal standards not being updated in decades, according to the EWG.

Currently, there is no requirement for public water systems to sample for PFAS chemicals, according to the Ohio EPA, which is tasked with regulating the systems. The federal EPA will soon require most water utilities throughout the nation to test for PFAS.

Sometimes when water systems test for PFAS, results come back as “undetectable.” This does not mean there is no trace of PFAS in the system during the testing period; rather, it shows it is below the limit of what testing methods can detect, which is often 5 ppt.

Officials with the Ohio EPA say newer laboratory methods are able to detect PFAS at levels below 5 ppt.

The U.S. EPA has also proposed a legally-enforceable hazard index for four other kinds of PFAS mixture. A hazard index is a tool used to evaluate health risks from exposure to chemical mixtures and is determined by an EPA formula.

“When the federal rule goes into effect, Ohio will develop rules that meet the federal standards,” said Dina Pierce, the media coordinator for the Ohio EPA.

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