A Growing Concern in Drinking Water: Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)
More comprehensive monitoring and/or regulations may be in the future for Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs), as well as increased mitigation of potential releases into the environment or water supply. The increased concern about PFCs comes as three significant groundwater supply sources in New Hampshire were found to be contaminated over health standards with PFCs. Similarly, findings of wells by PFC’s has been discovered across the USA (including the Midwest) at varying concentrations.
What are PFCs?
PFCs are a large group of chemicals used in industrial processes and consumer products. They are widely used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics, firefighting compounds, and other materials more resistant to stains, grease, and water. The most widely studied fluorinated organic chemicals include Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). PFOA is used in Teflon, fire-fighting foams, cleaners, car wash products, cosmetics, greases and lubricants, paints, polishes, adhesives and photographic films. PFCs are also sometimes referred to as PFAFs which refer to Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances.
How do PFCs Enter Groundwater?
PFCs are water-soluble and can be released into the environment through air emissions of industrial facilities, releases from landfills or dump sites, discharges from wastewater treatment plants, street and stormwater runoff, and the release of aqueous firefighting foams. Contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility such as an industrial facility where these chemicals were produced or used in other processes.
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services says the main sources of contamination in the three cases include air emissions from nearby industrial facilities which use PFCs and past releases of PFCs from fire-fighting training operations. Air emissions containing PFCs are dispersed in the air and are deposited on the surrounding soils. Rains and melting snow can cause PFCs to travel through soil and enter the groundwater.
Current USEPA Regulations
Each of the affected New Hampshire groundwater supply sources has concentrations greater than the current health advisory standards. In May 2016, the USEPA established the health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 µg/L) combined PFOA and PFOS to provide a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water. The health advisories for PFOA and PFOS were based on an assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science to provide information on the health risks of these chemicals in drinking water.
PFOA and PFOS are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). However, PFOA and PFOS were included in USEPA’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3) along with four other PFCs.
Risk of Human Exposure
The USEPA’s 70 parts per trillion (0.07 µg/L) combined PFOA and PFOS health advisories are based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects on laboratory animals and epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed. Research indicates that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, cancer, immune effects, and thyroid effects.
AE2S will continue to monitor for changes to PCFs regulations and we will share additional information as it is released. If you have questions about PCFs related to your water system, contact Nate Weisenburger, AE2S Water Practice Leader, at Nate.Weisenburger@ae2s.com.