PFOS & PFOA:
What you need to know
PFOA and PFOS are part of a group of approximately 4,700 manmade chemicals known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. PFAS have been used for decades in products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are also extremely resistant to breakdown in the environment.
Common uses of PFAS include:
1) Nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics,
2) Coatings on some food packaging—especially microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers,
3) Firefighting foam, and
4) Many industrial applications.
Because of their widespread use over many decades in products the public uses so frequently, PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively studied of these chemicals.
Additional information from the US EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respectively, is available at:
EPA announced its PFAS Action Plan in 2018, and several states have proposed limits in drinking water for specific PFAS. Improved laboratory technology has enabled us to detect these contaminants to extremely low levels, as low as 2.5 parts per trillion, resulting in identification of PFAS contamination in locations that previously had undetectable levels of these compounds.
In 2016, the EPA issued a Health Advisory Limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS combined. Health Advisory Limits are levels under which there is no expectation that there will be adverse human health effects over a lifetime of consistent daily exposure.
In 2018, the EPA announced an enhanced approach to address PFAS, including:
1. Evaluating PFOA and PFOS for regulation as drinking water contaminants in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
2. Designating certain PFAS as hazardous chemicals for site remediation purposes
3. Considering a ban on the use of certain PFAS
4. Expanding research to understand and manage risk
In addition, several states are proceeding with establishing local limits for PFAS.
You can learn more about the EPA PFAS Action Plan here:
According to the U.S. EPA, 70 parts per trillion health advisory levels offer a margin of protection for individuals regardless of age. The EPA developed the health advisory levels based on possible impacts on the single most vulnerable members of the population - developmental effects to a fetus or breastfed infant resulting from exposures that occur during pregnancy and lactation (nursing). The health advisory levels were also developed to be protective over an individual’s lifetime of exposure to drinking water at these levels for all other health effects.
The U.S. EPA identifies the contaminants to regulate in drinking water and sets the limits or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for 90 of these substances. SUEZ uses the EPA’s MCLs to ensure the quality of the water it provides to its customers.
However, for some contaminants the EPA has developed health advisories, instead of MCLs. Health advisories provide technical information to states and public health officials but do not prescribe any regulatory limits.
EPA has established health advisories for PFOA and PFOS based on the agency’s assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science. These are intended to provide drinking water system operators, and state and local officials who have the primary responsibility for overseeing these systems, with information on the health risks of these chemicals.
As science on the health effects of these chemicals evolves, the EPA will continue to evaluate new evidence. To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, the EPA has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion. Finally, the EPA has announced its intention to set MCLs for PFOA and PFOS.
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, states can establish their own MCLs, as long as they are at least as stringent as the federal regulations. In the absence of federal MCLs for PFAS, some states have elected to propose their own MCLs.
One part per trillion is the equivalent of one grain of sand in an Olympic-size swimming pool. The EPA’s lifetime health advisory sets a combined limit of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.
To regulate a contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA collects occurrence and health effects data and determines whether the contaminant:
1. May have adverse health effects;
2. Occurs frequently (or there is a substantial likelihood that it occurs frequently) at levels of public health concern; and
3. There is a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for people served by public water systems.
States typically follow a similar process. States are required to accept and enforce drinking water maximum contaminant limits that are at least as stringent as the EPA’s federal limits, but can also adopt more stringent requirements.
SUEZ currently meets all regulatory Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) related to PFAS.
SUEZ owns utilities in six different states and is prepared to invest in long-term treatment solutions when and if needed.
SUEZ also contracts with municipalities across the country to maintain and operate a large number of water and wastewater systems. In these instances, SUEZ is offering the Clients a voluntary sampling program and resultant treatment plans for consideration.
Lastly, SUEZ supports the efforts of state regulators who are seeking financial reimbursement from those responsible for the contamination to recover the costs of addressing this issue.