Read the full article by Clara Migoya (AZ Central)

“The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has initiated a statewide effort to sample over 1,200 public water systems across the state for 29 different kinds of a hazardous chemical known as PFAS. 

The goal is to produce a detailed map showing the presence of PFAS in drinking water supplies, the first step toward cleaning up contaminated water sources.

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the late 1940s in a wide variety of products and industries, and can now be found globally in water and soil. A growing body of evidence has shown that long-term exposure, even to low traces of these chemicals, can cause severe health issues.

Mapping the presence of these contaminants in Arizona wells is a crucial first step, especially as many communities grow more reliant on groundwater amid cuts from Colorado River water. 

The second step would be planning for treatment, but technologies to remove PFAS from drinking water are still new and expensive. More importantly, there are no federal regulations to enforce contaminant limits, so taking action remains voluntary. ADEQ has worked with about 13 water systems in Arizona to warn consumers and limit exposure. Treatment plants that can handle PFAS, like ones in Marana and Tucson, could serve as blueprint for other areas.

The statewide screening effort was largely prompted by a change in federal regulations. Officially, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has still not established a maximum contaminant level for PFAS. But with research that links PFAS exposure to infertility, birth defects, kidney malfunction, several types of cancer, and thyroid disease, among others, the federal regulator decided to dramatically tighten its health advisory.

In June, the levels established for PFOS and PFOA, two of the most prominent chemicals, were reduced from 70 parts per trillion to 0.02 and 0.004 parts per trillion, or about 3,500 and 17,000 times lower.

ADEQ has confirmed there are PFAS in at least 57 public water systems in Arizona, and now wants a fuller picture.

‘This project is critical for us to understand in Arizona where PFAS is so that we can address it,’ Water Quality Division Director Trevor Baggiore said about the sampling effort.

Starting in 2023, most public water systems will have to screen for 29 kinds of PFAS, under the EPA’s fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. Small systems serving fewer than 3,300 people will not fall under this requirement. The EPA will only draw 800 small ‘nationally representative’ systems for testing. 

In Arizona 90% of the state’s 1,502 public water systems fall in the category of ‘small’ systems. Most would be left out of the EPA’s monitoring rule.

ADEQ wants to make sure every single water system in Arizona is tested and will dedicate $3 million from federal Safe Drinking Water Act funds to that purpose. Baggiore believes the agency is ‘ahead of the curve.’

Those small systems serve over half a million people, and the environmental agency is committed to make sure they are all tested, Baggiore said in a public statement. 

The agency will provide results to the operators as soon as they become available and, if they find PFAS above the EPA-advised levels, the state will help them develop a plan to inform the community, limit exposure, and treat water accordingly. About 288 of the 1,502 systems in the state have already been tested and recorded in ADEQ’s PFAS Interactive Data Map. The statewide sampling is expected to conclude by September 2023.” …