Manufacturers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals” – have downplayed the potential risks of widespread PFAS contamination in drinking water systems throughout the country in order to preserve profits and avoid costly litigation and government penalties. Now, the costs of those manufacturers’ polluting policies are starting to be paid by the public and not the companies who chose to conceal the dangers of PFAS.
Water Systems Fail EPA’s New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS
In June of this year, the US EPA issued new health advisories for two of the most well-known and widely used PFAS chemicals, namely PFOA and PFOS. The fact that so many water systems across this country contain levels of PFOA and/or PFOS in excess of these new drinking water advisories means that thousands of drinking water treatment plants will need to be upgraded to combat the public health threat posed by these “forever chemicals.”
Who Should Pay to Remove PFAS from Drinking Water?
In an ideal world, the cost to upgrade drinking water plants to remove PFAS contamination would be paid by the polluters themselves. However, many towns, cities, and municipalities experiencing PFAS contamination of drinking water sources have not taken any action to hold the polluters accountable. PFAS manufacturers are more than happy to allow city water departments to pass these costs on to citizens while they count their profits.
Who Should Pay for the Proper Disposal of PFAS Sludges?
The costs of combatting PFAS contamination also do not end with upgraded water treatment plants. Landfills that accept the sludge wastes from water treatment plants also need to be upgraded. When PFAS is removed from drinking water, the resulting waste is a PFAS laden sludge that will cause PFAS to leach into groundwater below landfills and contaminate the surrounding areas. These sludges must be properly disposed of in a lined landfill permitted for such wastes.
Previously water treatment sludge has been re-used as fertilizer or compost in commercial agricultural operations. However, Maine was the first state to ban this practice due to the high levels of PFAS in the sludge waste and the ability of PFAS to enter the food chain via contaminated crops.
Other states are expected to follow suit. It is anticipated that citizens of Maine’s sewerage bills will rise $20-40 per year for sludge disposal since it can no longer be used for fertilizer. These costs will rise, likely dramatically, as more states ban the practice and disposal rules for water treatment wastes get stricter. Whether current landfills have the capacity to take on all of the PFAS laden sludge in a safe manner is another concern. As water treatment facilities begin competing for landfill space, the customers will be the ones to feel the burden.
Municipalities Can’t Afford to Take on the Burden
This is just the beginning. Drinking water treatment and sludge disposal costs will continue to rise at a time when most families are struggling with bills. If individual municipal water treatment plants are expected to solve the PFAS contamination problems in this country, it will be extremely expensive, it will take a tremendous amount of time and effort, and it will likely be dependent on technologies that have not yet been invented.
The obvious, smarter, and cheaper option is to eliminate the source of the contamination by removing PFAS containing products from the marketplace and having the polluters pay for the past contamination, not the public. States and towns have already dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to address PFAS contamination in water systems, but this is just scratching the surface.
If you are in a management or oversight position for a public or private drinking water treatment facility, please contact us at 504-593-9600 to see if you are able to make the companies responsible for the PFAS pollution pay for its removal.