National focus on drinking water quality City continues to take action to reduce exposure to unregulated contaminants
For the Wausau Times
Yesterday, the EPA issued guidance for new interim lifetime health advisory levels (HAs) of 0.004 parts per trillion for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 0.02 parts per trillion (ppt) for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). Final HAs were also issued for two additional PFAS, perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS) and hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (“GenX chemicals”).
Wausau Water continues to meet all safe drinking water regulatory standards. EPA recommends water systems that measure any levels of PFOA or PFOS take steps to inform customers.
Wausau Water Works has been providing information on PFAS over the last 4-months related to HAs. We want to explain EPA action and describe Wausau Water Works ongoing approach to PFAS management.
First, 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. The 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. Wausau Water Works has assembled and been working with a team of consultants to determine how well various treatment options can reduce levels of PFAS in Wausau’s drinking water. 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).
The 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 the EPA’s Health Advisory Level and what does it mean?
It can be a lengthy process to set drinking water regulations. With science, there’s 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.
Today the 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, trace amounts. For perspective, 1 part per trillion is equal to 1 drop in 500,000 barrels of water. These new health advisories are also below recommended levels by the WDHS and below current reliable detection abilities of scientific equipment (Scientists detect PFAS compounds at 2 parts per trillion.)
At this time, EPA is not recommending bottled water or providing alternative water sources, based solely on concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water that exceed the health advisory levels.
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. In 2022 the WDHS recommended a standard of 20 parts per trillion and the WDNR recommended and adopted a standard of 70 parts per trillion. Because of further research and as EPA determines its regulatory approach, it has created a lower health advisory and is expected to make a recommendation for a new standard before the end of the year.
What are the levels in Wausau’s drinking water?
The levels in Wausau’s water can be found on our website; PFAS_MemoWausauWellsResults.pdf
Wausau’s Treated Water – Discharge EP200
|PFAS Compound||Wausau Treated Water Results (Discharge EP200)||EPA Health Advisory Level|
|PFOA||21.7 parts per trillion||.004 parts per trillion|
|PFOS||9.24 parts per trillion||.02 parts per trillion|
Wausau’s Treated Water – Discharge EP300
|PFAS Compound||Wausau Treated Water Results (Discharge EP300)||EPA Health Advisory Level|
|PFOA||16.8 parts per trillion||.004 parts per trillion|
|PFOS||12.0 parts per trillion||.02 parts per trillion|
The other PFAS compounds for which EPA issued health advisory levels include hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), otherwise known as “GenX,” and Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS). Our monitoring results indicate levels that are well below the health advisory levels:
|PFAS Compound||Wausau Treated Water Results (Discharge EP200 & EP300)||EPA Health Advisory Level|
|GenX||Below limit of detection or non-detectable||10 parts per trillion|
|PFBS||1.08 & 2.37 parts per trillion||2,000 parts per trillion|
What is Wausau Water works doing about PFAS?
Wausau Water Works has been working with a team of consultants since February, both engineers and scientists, to develop a pilot study to determine the best option for managing PFAS in our drinking water. Our research in this matter is our priority and we have been collecting pilot test data since March of 2022.
The City launched regular monitoring for PFAS across their municipal drinking water in March and has been testing the water about every 2 weeks. The City examined steps to limit exposure and reduce human health risk and also commenced a pilot study to evaluate treatment options to reduce levels of PFAS in drinking water. In April 2022, the City launched bottled water and a personal filter distribution program for concerned residents. Pilot study results were reported to the Commission on May 6 and June 7, 2022.
As the WIDNR and WDHS continue to coordinate a review of EPA’s HAs to assess how they will impact prior State recommendations, the City will closely monitor new information and guidance as it becomes available. The City and Wausau Water Works are working closely with the WDNR and WDHS to ensure immediate mitigation measures are appropriate and long-term solutions are implemented
Our next steps moving forward:
• Develop an interim recommended solution for PFAS reduction in drinking water once the new treatment facility goes online in summer of 2022.
• Continue the pilot testing study to determine and recommend the best long-term solution for reducing PFAS levels in drinking water and continue to meet future drinking water standards.
• Develop practical and feasible strategies to reduce levels of PFAS as EPA and WDNR develop and finalize future drinking water standards.
The lower the level, the lower the risk and as always, public health and the safety and quality of your drinking water is our top priority.
Updates on the pilot study and decisions moving forward will be presented monthly at the regularly scheduled Wausau Water Works Commission meetings. Dates and times may be found on the City website calendar Wausau Calendar.
Further press releases and updates will be coming in the weeks ahead.