Member Spotlight – June 2019

  • by Will Holbert
  • Jun 21, 2019
  • Newsletters

OCWD First Public Agency Lab to Receive State Certification for PFOA/PFOS Detection

OCWD’s Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory in Fountain Valley, which is the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. The laboratory was renamed last year in honor of long-time OCWD Board Director Philip L. Anthony, who passed away on July 26, 2018.

Orange County Water District’s (OCWD’s) Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory has become the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for per- and polyfluoralkly substances (PFAS) in drinking water.  

The PFAS family of chemicals includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) contaminants. The certification was recently granted by the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) administered by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The lab had previously received certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test drinking water in accordance with EPA Method 537 that determines the concentration of selected perfluorinated alkyl acids, such as PFOA and PFOS.  This certification was received as part of the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) 3 program, with the OCWD lab being one of only three public agency labs nationally to be certified for all UCMR3 methods.

“Operating the first public agency lab in California to achieve state ELAP certification for Method 537 is the result of OCWD’s commitment to exceptional water quality,” said OCWD President Vicente Sarmiento. “OCWD tests water for over 500 compounds, while only 109 of those compounds are required to be regulated by state and federal law.”

Mass spectrometry and degassing laboratory equipment at the Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory used to test for chemicals of emerging concern, including PFAS. The lab is an internationally recognized leader in water quality testing and performs more than 400,000 analyses of approximately 20,000 water samples each year.

PFOA and PFOS compounds were historically used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials resistant to water, grease or stains, and were also used for firefighting at airfields, and in several industrial processes. Companies in the United States voluntarily agreed in 2006 to phase out production of these chemicals by the end of 2015.

Although yet to be federally regulated, in 2016 EPA issued a provisional health advisory for lifetime exposure to these compounds set at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the combined sum of PFOA and PFOS concentrations. In July 2018, California established Notification Levels of 14 ppt for PFOA, 13 ppt for PFOS and a combined Response Level of 70 ppt.  One part per trillion is equivalent to one drop in a volume of water that can fill 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

“The Method 537 certification is possible because of significant investments OCWD made to improve the sensitivity of OCWD’s lab equipment to look for contaminants of emerging concern,” stated OCWD Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources Jason Dadakis.

The lab is certified and audited by both ELAP and the EPA. It is also one of only three public agency labs in the nation to provide full chemical analyses for another program called EPA UCMR4 via certification of seven different EPA methods.  The UCMR4 data will serve as primary sources of occurrence and exposure information that EPA uses to make regulatory decisions.

Water agencies in OCWD’s service area serve drinking water that meets all state and federal regulations, and final product water from OCWD’s Groundwater Replenishment System meets or is superior to all state and federal regulations. Per EPA and State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water guidance, all water agencies in OCWD’s service area have operated their water systems to serve water below the federal health advisory and state response level through a combination of taking impacted wells out of service, using alternative sources and blending water sources.

What’s Next for PFAS?

Regulatory and legislative activity surrounding per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination presents multiple current and potential impacts on water agencies. 

The most recent round of developments started in July of 2018, when the State Water Resources Control Board set interim Notification Levels of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS – both compounds are within the PFAS family of chemicals.  

At the time, 455 public water systems had tested for PFOA and PFOS, according to the State Water Board. Of those, only eight systems reported results above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 70-ppt Health Advisory Level for either PFOA, PFOS or both combined. These systems took steps to either treat their water to a level below the health advisory or remove the water source from service.

This February, the U.S. EPA released a PFAS Action Plan that they could use to produce a proposed national drinking water regulatory determination. This Action Plan describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, approaches to addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS. However, the EPA has been non-committal in establishing a timeline for when a federal PFAS maximum contaminant level (MCL) might be adopted. 

Meanwhile, the State Water Board rolled out its PFAS Phased Investigation with a specific timeline that began in March and will continue into this summer and fall and into 2020. Phase 1 of this plan is now underway with orders to airports and landfills that require owners and operators to conduct investigations of PFAS contamination. Phases 2 and 3 will widen the scope to wastewater treatment and pre-treatment plants. Public water agencies will conduct investigations into PFAS contamination in all three phases.

The PFAS contamination issue has not escaped the attention of the State Legislature, where two bills propose further regulations on the issue. As of June 18, AB 841, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to conduct its own set of assessments of the contaminant and report back to the Legislature by 2022. AB 756 by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) would grant the State Water Board the authority to require that public water systems monitor for PFAS. ACWA is currently maintaining a support position on AB 841 and an oppose position on AB 756.

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