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PFAS & Drinking Water FAQ

Click on a topic below to view the answers.

What are perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of more than 6,000 manmade chemicals used in the manufacture of a wide variety of industrial and household products designed to resist heat, water, oil and stains. A wide variety of products are made with PFAS, including non-stick cookware, food packaging, personal care products and water-resistant apparel.

Four PFAS of note include perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HPFO-DA or GenX). In June 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new lifetime health advisories for the four compounds.

Although their use has been phased out in the United States, the fact that these chemicals are very stable means that they tend to hang around in the environment for a long time. There is national concern about these chemicals entering our surface and groundwater drinking water sources.

Is PFAS regulated in drinking water?

Currently, there are no federal or state water quality regulations for any PFAS.

In 2016, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS, which are classified as PFAS, in drinking water.

In June 2022, the EPA released the following interim health advisory levels:

Unlike EPA regulations, EPA's health advisories are non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials. According to EPA, Results greater than the health advisory level do not mean that there is an emergency, violation or an immediate health concern for customers.

These four health advisories reflect potential risk assuming 70 years of exposure. EPA materials point consumers toward opportunities to reduce PFAS exposure in their daily lives, whether it is exposure through drinking water, food, dust or other routes.

It is important to note that current instrumentation is not able to detect PFOA and PFAS at the EPA’s interim health advisory levels.

Has PWCSA tested its drinking water for PFAS?

In May 2021, the Prince William County Service Authority voluntarily participated in a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) study to analyze for PFAS in water samples collected from the distribution systems of the 17 largest water utilities in the state. The Service Authority collected samples from its East and West systems and sent them to an independent laboratory selected by VDH for testing. The test results are shown in the table below.

In an effort to gain additional PFAS data, VDH is planning a Phase 2 sampling program in summer 2022 which may require additional sampling by the Service Authority.

If results are above the 2022 Health Advisory Level, what does that mean for customers?

According to EPA, results greater than the health advisory do not mean that there is an emergency, violation, or an immediate health concern for customers. 

If you are concerned about potential health effects from exposure to these PFAS above the health advisory level, EPA encourages you to contact your doctor or health care professional.

At this time, EPA is not recommending bottled water for communities based solely on concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water that exceed the health advisory levels.

What actions are the EPA and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) taking regarding PFAS?

EPA

In February 2021, the EPA issued a final determination to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The agency also proposed to require water utilities monitor for 29 PFAS compounds in drinking water. In April 2021, the agency announced the establishment of the EPA Council on PFAS to develop a national strategy to protect public health and make recommendations regarding PFAS.

In December 2021, EPA published the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5). UCMR 5 requires sample collection for 30 chemical contaminants between 2023 and 2025, using analytical methods developed by EPA and consensus organizations. Twenty-nine PFAS chemicals will be included in this study.

In June 2022, EPA released interim health advisory levels of 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. Additionally, final health advisories were released of 2,000 ppt for PFBS and 10 ppt for GenX chemicals. EPA is in the process of setting maximum contaminant levels for PFAS within the scientifically rigorous framework of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). A proposal is expected in the fall of 2022.

VDH

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed two bills (HB 586 and HB 1257) that directed the VDH’s Office of Drinking Water (ODW) to study the occurrence, health effects and treatability of PFAS compounds in public drinking water and to adopt maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for some PFAS compounds.

What is PWCSA doing about PFAS?

The Service Authority purchases treated drinking water from Fairfax Water, which obtains and treats water from the Occoquan Reservoir and the Potomac River to meet the needs of Service Authority customers in Eastern Prince William County. The Service Authority remains fully confident in Fairfax Water’s ability to provide safe and reliable drinking water that meets all regulatory treatment and distribution requirements.

The Service Authority is partnering with Fairfax Water, VDH and other stakeholders to identify potential sources of PFAS in the watershed. The Service Authority looks forward to receiving further guidance from the EPA and VDH, and it will take all necessary actions to meet future federal and state drinking water regulations for PFAS when they have been established.

Please note, EPA's health advisories are non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials. Results greater than the health advisory do not mean that there is an emergency, violation or an immediate health concern for customers.

How does PFAS get into drinking water sources?

PFAS typically enters drinking water sources (lakes, rivers, wells, etc.) through storm water runoff and wastewater originating from facilities where PFAS chemicals were produced or used.

How can I limit my exposure to PFAS?

  • Read labels and try to avoid using products with PFAS, like some non-stick cookware, paints, degreasers and fire-fighting foams, as well as products like waterproof and water-resistant clothing, certain cosmetics, stain-resistant upholstery and carpet, and food packaged in grease-proof wrappers or containers.
  • Avoid products containing ingredients listed as PTFE or perfluoro-, or polyfluor-.
  • Support efforts to protect drinking water sources from PFAS.

If you are concerned about potential health effects from exposure to these PFAS above the health advisory level, EPA encourages you to contact your doctor or health care professional.

Where can I learn more about PFAS?

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