EPA issues proposed PFAS standards

Metropolitan Utilities District (M.U.D.) produces and distributes high quality drinking water that meets all state and federal regulatory requirements.

On March 14, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed water standards for PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) to manage the risk for this group of man-made chemicals. The proposal establishes maximum contaminant levels goals and maximum contaminant levels for six PFAS.

For more information on the proposed regulations, please visit the EPA’s website.

What are PFAS compounds?

Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been widely used in the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials. They are also used for firefighting and in industrial processes. EPA says most people are exposed to these chemicals through consumer products. Drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have entered the water supplies.

EPA regulates the safe levels for hundreds of compounds in drinking water. Currently, there is no federal regulation for PFAS. Many water utilities, including our scientists at M.U.D., are conducting research to determine the levels of PFAS in our water and various treatment options.

PFAS are a large family of compounds, up to 5,000 chemicals. EPA is focused on a small number of these compounds that may have health effects at very low concentrations, two of which are Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

EPA says most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers in the mid-2000s. There are a limited number of ongoing uses, and these chemicals remain in the environment due to their persistence and the inability to degrade.

What is EPA’s health advisory level and what does it mean?

It can be a lengthy process to set drinking water regulations. With science, there is no such thing as zero, so research is important to determine an acceptable risk level for public health. A health advisory level is commonly a first step in EPA developing a regulation.

On June 15, 2022, EPA set new interim health advisory levels for PFOA at 0.004 parts per trillion and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. These are microscopic levels. For perspective, 1 part per trillion is equal to 1 drop in 500,000 barrels of water. These new health advisories are also below current reliable detection abilities of scientific equipment (Scientists can currently detect PFAS compounds at 2 parts per trillion.)

Health advisories are not enforceable like regulations. Instead, the advisories are interim guidance before EPA develops a formal regulation. The health advisory level is the minimum concentration of a compound which may present health risks to an individual over a lifetime of exposure. Because there is uncertainty of the health effects associated with long-term exposure to compounds, EPA sets lower health advisories. Sometimes, the advisory is lower than current analytical methods can detect.

EPA first issued a health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS in 2016 at 70 parts per trillion. Because of further research and as EPA determines its regulatory approach, it has created a lower health advisory.

What are PFAS levels in M.U.D.’s drinking water?

M.U.D. does periodic monitoring for PFAS. Our water quality lab samples our source waters, the treated drinking water leaving our three treatment plants and the water distribution system.

Our most recent tests show all PFOAs were below 4 parts per trillion, which is currently accepted as the lowest level at which the PFAS compounds can be reliably detected, as described in President Biden’s EPA plan for PFAS.

What is M.U.D. doing about PFAS?

We are reviewing and researching EPA’s proposed standards and health advisory levels. Our scientists need to learn more, specifically:

  • Determining the levels of PFAS in our water (if any) with additional monitoring and identifying any patterns.
  • Understanding established and emerging treatment options.
  • If applicable, developing practical and feasible strategies to reduce levels of PFAS as EPA develops and finalizes its future drinking water standards.

The lower the level, the lower the risk and as always, public health and the quality of your drinking water is our top priority.

What are M.U.D. and EPA recommending to consumers?

M.U.D. customers may continue to drink tap water. EPA interim advisories do not recommend that consumers stop using tap water, nor do they recommend the use of bottled water. M.U.D.’s treated drinking water continues to meet all state and federal regulatory requirements.

If you have questions, please contact M.U.D. at 402.554.6666.

For more information, please see the EPA’s website.