State Water Resources Control Board Lowers Notification Levels for PFOA, PFOS

  • by Will Holbert
  • Aug 27, 2019
  • Water News

The State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW) on Aug. 23 announced new Drinking Water Notification Levels for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS). The new levels replace interim levels set in July 2018 for the two contaminants, which belong to the group of chemicals collectively called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The Notification Level for PFOA has been lowered from 14 parts per trillion (ppt) to 5.1 ppt and  the Notification Level for PFOS has been lowered from 13 ppt to 6.5 ppt. While Notification Levels are not regulations, water agencies must notify local governing bodies if they are exceeded. The State Water Board recommends, but does not require, that water agencies also notify customers and DDW. Today’s action will likely impact many water agencies through inquiries from customers and news media.

DDW also announced it will update Drinking Water Response Levels for PFOA and PFOS this fall. Until then, the Drinking Water Response Levels of 70 ppt for the total combined concentration of both contaminants remains in place and is consistent with the existing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory. When Response Levels are exceeded, the State Water Board recommends that water agencies either remove the water source from service, or notify governing bodies and customers that the water source exceeds these levels and is still being used.

Additionally, DDW has requested that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment develop Public Health Goals (PHG) for PFOA and PFOS. Establishing PHGs is a preliminary step for the State Water Board to set Maximum Contaminant Levels for these contaminants.

ACWA distributed a toolkit on Aug. 19 to assist member agencies in educating customers, stakeholders and the media about PFAS. Member log-in is required to access toolkit items, which include a fact sheet, talking points and links to more information.

PFAS are a large group of chemicals that have been used extensively in consumer products such as carpets, clothing, furniture fabric, food packaging, nonstick cookware and firefighting foams. They were identified as health risks during the 2000s and phased out of manufacturing in the United States, but some imported products still contain these substances. PFAS substances have been detected in some water supplies, particularly around airports, landfills, and existing and former military bases.

To date, more than 600 drinking water supply wells in California have been tested for PFOA and PFOS. For those systems that exceeded the 70 ppt interim PFOA or PFOS Response Level, they have either resolved the exceedance through treatment or removed the water source from service.

DDW’s action follows Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing AB 756 (C. Garcia) into law. The approved legislation, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, essentially gives the State Water Board the authority to order public water systems to monitor for PFAS. Additionally, if the detection exceeds the Response Level, the public water system must either take the source out of use or provide direct public notification to customers within 30 days. ACWA opposed the bill because it sets a precedent for regulating contaminants via legislation instead of the well-established regulatory process.

In Congress, several pending bills focus on PFAS detection and potential regulation. For example, S. 1507 would direct the EPA to set a drinking water standard for PFOS and PFOA, at a minimum, and potentially other PFAS substances within two years. It would also add at least 18 PFAS to the next round of unregulated contaminant monitoring. ACWA believes that all regulatory decisions affecting drinking water should be made through the process established in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and is advocating for changes to S. 1507 to make it consistent with the SDWA.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make a determination on whether to set a federal drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS by the end of this year.

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