A publication of Appalachian Voices

A publication of Appalachian Voices

Across Appalachia

New Effort to Reduce ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

By Matt Dhillon

The Environmental Protection Agency set new, stricter limits on the levels of certain PFAS chemicals in drinking water in April. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are common in a number of household consumer products.

A third of the 412 drinking water systems tested in Pennsylvania, 38 systems in Kentucky, 35 in North Carolina, 19 in West Virginia and 18 in Virginia contain PFAS in concentrations above the new standards, according to multiple local news outlets.

Sierra Club testing found PFAS chemicals at 13.2 parts per trillion in drinking water from Hawkins County, Tennessee, which draws water from the Holston River below Holston Army Ammunition Depot. For years, these levels were considered safe, but they exceed the new standards.

On April 10, the EPA finalized regulations to limit the levels of five PFAS in drinking water. The regulations set the limit for the two most common types, PFOA and PFOS, at 4 parts per trillion.

Teflon is one source of PFAS, but the non-stick properties of this group of chemicals are commonly used in paint, furniture, packaging, water-resistant clothing and stain-resistant carpets.

Also known as forever chemicals, PFAS don’t break down. They can accumulate in soil, wildlife, groundwater and waterways.

The chemicals can also accumulate in the human body, contributing to a number of adverse health effects including developmental delays in children, decreased fertility, interference with natural hormones, weakened immune system, and increased risk of some cancers including prostate, kidney and testicular cancer. A 2022 EPA health advisory indicates the chemicals could be harmful with long-term exposure at concentrations from .004-.02 parts per trillion, much lower than the EPA’s 2016 estimate of 70 parts per trillion.

The EPA also announced $1 billion to help states implement testing and treatment in public systems and private wells, part of $9 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for addressing community drinking water issues with PFAS and other emerging contaminants. The 2021 law also included $12 billion for general drinking water upgrades, and that funding can be used to remove PFAS.

PFAS can be filtered out at water utilities using carbon filters, but the treatment is expensive. The EPA estimates Virginia would need to spend between $390,000 to $2.4 million a year for 35 years to clean its water supply. Last year, Leitchfield, Kentucky asked the state for $1 million to aid in implementing a granular activated carbon filter.

Early in 2023, the state of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the chemical manufacturing giant DuPont for pollution to the Ohio River from a facility in West Virginia 120 miles upstream from the Kentucky border. The state is seeking damages to pay for treating the pollution caused by PFAS.

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2024 — Spring

2024 — Spring

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