PFAS contamination in municipal drinking water presents a serious public health threat. The sources of PFAS include:
- Furniture manufacturing
- Military bases
- aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used in firefighting
- septic tanks
Regulators and researchers find PFAS in both surface and groundwater. PFAS in water increases the likelihood of certain diseases such as thyroid disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer. The CDC says PFAS persist in the environment and exposure in people can occur by consuming PFAS-contaminated water or food. Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet | National Biomonitoring Program | CDC
Federal and State Regulation of PFAS in Public Water
Although the EPA hasn’t set an enforceable limit for PFAS levels in drinking water, they are developing regulations for PFOS and PFOA. Certain States require public entities that supply water to test for PFAS contamination and limit public exposure. States like Massachusetts lead this charge by studying the public health threat and enacting state standards to protect its citizens. In the near future, the federal government is expected to mandate testing and set strict limits for PFAS levels in public water supplies. This means public water suppliers need to prepare to not only test their water, but also prepare to treat water for PFAS. This usually means costly filtration of the water.
Municipal Water Treatment for PFAS
Fortunately, solutions exist. The EPA has identified several technologies for removal of PFAS from water. Those technologies include:
- activated carbon adsorption
- ion exchange resins
- high-pressure membranes.
These technologies can be used in drinking water treatment facilities. However, municipal water systems will spend millions of dollars to install these systems.
Municipal Water Treatment Lawsuits
Importantly, Municipal water facilities can file lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of PFAS products. The federal courts have consolidated most of these lawsuits before one judge. Judge Gergel presides over thousands of lawsuits filed against 3M, Dupont, and many other PFAS companies. The Judge set several municipal water supplier lawsuits for trial in 2023. The parties expect these lawsuits will provide insight into the strength of the lawsuits. A big win at trial for the municipalities will put additional pressure on the defendants to reach a reasonable settlement. This means the defendants will pay money to municipalities for the cost of filtration systems.