Read the full article by Anna Reade (NRDC)

“The estimated number of Californians affected by water contaminated by toxic PFAS chemicals is rising. Data released just last week confirms that California has cause for worry, and underscores that the state should act now to protect its residents. One way to do that is to pass laws that stop unnecessary use and release of these harmful chemicals and that provide for better testing for them…

Limited national testing performed several years ago showed 28 California public water systems, serving approximately 3.5 million people, were affected. Last week’s data builds on previous reporting by the state that showed significantly more drinking water sources are contaminated than previously suggested by national testing. Results from the California State Water Resources Control Board’s state-wide investigation of PFAS contamination sites (including last week’s release) shows:

  • Over 300 source wells representing nearly 100 public water systems that serve approximately 7.5 million Californians across the state are contaminated with PFAS.
  • More than 200 wells are contaminated above recently-adopted notification levels for two individual PFAS. This is a significant cause for concern. Yet California has still not regulated these or any other PFAS. And much lower levels of these PFAS have been associated with adverse health effects.
  • Many wells had detections of multiple PFAS (some with up to eight in a single well) including a mixture of “legacy” and newer replacement PFAS. This illustrates the need to broaden California’s approach to PFAS beyond two chemicals.
  • The latest, second quarter testing data shows an even higher frequency of PFAS detections than the first quarter and detection of an additional three PFAS not found in the first quarter testing. (and there are many, many more PFAS that have not yet been tested for)

Further monitoring will likely demonstrate even more PFAS contamination, as the Water Board moves beyond investigating contamination from airports and landfills to multiple other potential contamination sites such as industrial sites, wastewater facilities, and military installations.

Unfortunately, the federal government has no restrictions on the use of PFAS, on dumping the chemicals into waterways, or releasing them in the air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows little about where PFAS are used and where PFAS pollution is located. And it is important to note that there are no federal drinking water standards for PFAS to protect public health.

The new state data and the lack of federal protections point to the need for state level solutions to address this widespread and growing public health and environmental problem. These solutions should address key categories of action, including:

Phase out the use of PFAS: To limit further harm to our health and the environment, we should stop non-essential uses of PFAS and move to safer non-fluorine alternatives wherever possible. For example, PFAS in carpets, which provides the minor convenience of stain resistance, is a large source of toxic exposure in the home, especially for infants and children. It’s clearly not an essential function, and due to market pressures, major retailers and manufacturers are moving away from PFAS use in carpets completely. For example, The Home Depot and Lowe’s have proactively stopped selling carpets and rugs that contain any PFAS chemicals. In addition, California’s Safer Consumer Products program has proposed to address PFAS in carpets and rugs sold in the state.

Another important example of where we can move to safer alternatives is firefighting foam. A bill introduced by Senator Ben Allen yesterday, SB 1044, would prohibit the sale and use of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals in the state of California. Use of PFAS in firefighting foam is not necessary as alternative fluorine-free foams are effective, available, cost-saving, and in use.

Clean up drinking water: The gravity of the health risks associated with PFAS requires the state and water providers to act proactively. It’s encouraging that the state has started looking beyond PFOA and PFOS (2 well known legacy PFAS) by proposing to act on other PFAS detected in its recent testing. But it doesn’t go far enough. It only proposes to act on seven additional PFAS while there are thousands of other chemicals in the class. Regulators and water suppliers should focus on cleaning up a wide range of PFAS chemicals, addressing the full class whenever possible. Anything less does not protect the public.

The first step in addressing PFAS in water is to fully understand the extent of PFAS contamination in California. To do that, we need a test capable of estimating total PFAS in water. To address this, a bill was introduced yesterday by Senator Portantino, SB 1056,asking the Water Board to validate and certify a testing method for total PFAS, or a surrogate for total PFAS.

But we need more. In parallel, the state needs to explore how to protect the public from the entire class of chemicals, including enforceable drinking water standards for groups of similar PFAS, for the full class itself, and/or the establishment of a “treatment technique” for total PFAS. Research has shown that some treatment technologies are not as effective for newer, but still toxic, replacement PFAS that are now polluting drinking water. Water suppliers that address PFAS contamination by designing a water treatment solution to remove legacy PFAS run the risk of allowing other newer PFAS chemicals that have health impacts similar to legacy PFAS to remain in the drinking water they deliver to homes, schools, and businesses. In addition, because treatment can differ for legacy PFAS and newer versions of PFAS, not taking a broader regulatory approach will result in inadequate treatments that will have to be updated later at greater cost to ratepayers…”