EPA Data Reveals Widespread PFAS Contamination in U.S. Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released data showing that almost 300 public drinking water systems in the United States have exceeded the newly established annual limits for PFAS, or per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. These nearly indestructible “forever chemicals” have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers and other serious health issues. As more water utilities submit their test results over the next two years, the number of affected systems is expected to grow significantly.

5 Key Points

  • The EPA estimates that up to 6,000 water systems may need corrective action to reduce PFAS levels.
  • Public water systems in Fort Worth, Texas; Fresno, California; Pensacola, Florida; and Augusta, Georgia, exceed the new limits.
  • Water utilities invest in granular activated carbon filtration and other treatment methods to remove PFAS from their water.
  • Compliance with the new EPA rules may lead to increased water rates for consumers.
  • Addressing PFAS contamination is expected to be expensive, but the cost of inaction could be even greater.

Water Systems Taking Action to Remove PFAS

Many water utilities have already begun taking steps to address PFAS contamination in their water supplies. In Fort Worth, Texas, where three separate PFAS chemicals exceeded the new limits at two water treatment plants, the city plans to design a treatment process using granular activated carbon. The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority in Pensacola, Florida, also invests in granular activated carbon filtration for wells with PFAS detections.

The Water Authority of Western Nassau County on Long Island, New York, has been installing PFAS treatment on contaminated wells to comply with state regulations. However, with stricter federal standards, the authority must revisit and retrofit some of its previous projects.

Private Water Operators Address PFAS Contamination

Veolia Water, the largest private operator of water services in the U.S., has proactively addressed PFAS contamination in several states. In Delaware, where one of its water treatment plants averaged nearly five times over the new limit for PFOA, the company is constructing a new treatment facility housing 42 carbon filters. The facility is expected to be fully operational by early 2025.

The Cost of Compliance

Complying with the new EPA rules is expected to be expensive for water utilities. Many will seek federal assistance to reduce the burden on ratepayers, but more money needs to be made available for everyone. As a result, some water systems may need to raise customer rates to recover the costs associated with PFAS treatment projects.

However, experts argue that the cost of inaction could be even greater. “The cost of doing nothing is going to be far worse than the cost of doing something about this,” said Adam Lisberg, senior vice president of communications in Veolia’s municipal water division.