The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System recently sent warnings to its customers that recent testing of the system’s water found the presence of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFOA and PFOS) “forever chemicals” at levels well above new EPA standards.
The EPA, after years of testing, recently lowered the acceptable levels of PFOA and PFOS chemicals to .004 and .002 parts per trillion, respectively. The MAWSS notice said its testing revealed levels of 1.0-to-1.6 and 1.8-to-2.2.
While the new levels implemented by the EPA reflect its growing concerns over the adverse health effects possible from continued exposure and consumption of PFOA and PFOS, the new advisories are not yet enforceable as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As such, neither the EPA nor the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has authority to force entities, such as MAWSS, to install filters or equipment that remove the chemicals from the water.
PFAS and PFOS chemicals are present in many water sources around the country, and particularly in Alabama, where a variety of chemical companies have found few regulations and even fewer regulators to make their disposal of potentially toxic waste more expensive.
Testing of a landfill site in Decatur, near a 3M plant, two years ago found levels of more than 50,000 parts per trillion. EPA recommended levels at the time were 70 parts per trillion.
The agency has been steadily lowering the recommended acceptable levels for drinking water, and it has shown growing concern over the potential health effects, which include cancer, abnormal births, developmental issues, immune system problems and liver issues. Experts have predicted that the agency will push to make the advisories enforceable within the next few years, as case numbers and evidence continue to grow.
However, lawsuits over the chemicals have been on court dockets for years. A water system in north Alabama, near the same 3M plant, was forced to install new filters after the head of the water authority warned customers that the water was unsafe.
The City of Decatur recently entered into a controversial settlement with 3M to remediate a number of PFAS dump sites and pay for other cleanup and monitoring. The settlement didn’t include installing filters to remove the chemicals from the city’s drinking water – an oversight that could prove costly with the EPA’s current recommendations.
For those concerned about potential – or known – PFAS/PFOS chemicals in drinking water, the EPA’s website offers a number of tips for filtering drinking water at home and how to limit your exposure.