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Elevated Levels of PFAS in Drinking Water Linked to Adverse Health Problems

A series of recently published scientific reports have become the focus of concern across the water industry as increasing levels of potentially toxic chemicals are detected in drinking water supplies. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) encompass more than 4,000 substances found in consumer products like food packaging, stain-proof rugs, waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, and firefighting foams.

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a health advisory for PFAS that created the lowest concentrations ever established for a contaminant at 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in drinking supplies. This directive was based on mounting research that links PFAS to a wide range of health problems, including multiple types of cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, and premature birth, to name a few. Currently, there are no regulations for the presence of PFAS chemicals in public water systems. However, that may soon change according to the EPA’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued earlier in 2021.

Useful & Pervasive Chemical Substance Infiltrates Water Supply

Due to a chemical structure that contains linked chains of carbon and fluorine, PFAS are long-lived substances that can repel both water and oil, making them extremely durable and resistant. However, these properties which make PFAS useful in a wide array of consumer goods are the same ones that make them extremely persistent in the environment. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals.” Once they are in the environment, they do not break down. Instead, they continue to build up in our ecosystems, source water, and in turn, our bodies.

While this multitude of manmade chemicals surrounds us in our daily lives via the products we use, PFAS mainly contaminates water supplies through two primary sources: industrial discharge and fire suppressant foam. For decades, fire suppressant foam has been used at numerous military bases nationwide and extensively at airports throughout the world. Once the foam is dispersed, it sinks into the surrounding soil, enters the groundwater systems through stormwater runoff, and slowly spreads the contaminants.

Estimates concerning the amount of contaminated drinking water supplies differ based on testing practices and location. The Environmental Working Group, a consumer-education nonprofit, estimates that “1,500 drinking water systems across the country may be contaminated, affecting 110 million Americans.”

Potential Impending Regulation Changes for Treatment Facilities

So what does this potential shift in the rules mean for your community? With impending regulation changes, facility updates are seemingly inevitable. At Snyder & Associates, our environmental scientists and water source professionals stay on the cutting edge of new technology and are well-versed when it comes to enacting proactive measures to tackle new regulations.

Whether you’ll need to improve an existing water treatment plant or design an entirely new facility, we know that cost-effective and intelligent solutions begin with proper testing. When testing concentrations in parts per trillion, data quality and reliability are absolutely critical. We have established strong relationships with local agencies and can quickly coordinate the proper testing protocols and communications for individual facilities. Once results are verified, our team can help determine the best course of action to mitigate PFAS, along with most other water parameters and contaminants such as hardness, iron, manganese, nitrate, and ammonia.

Determining Cost-Effective Treatment Options to Mitigate PFAS

Today’s water utilities have several options for removing PFAS from their drinking water supply. Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), ion exchange, and Reverse Osmosis (RO) are the three most widely accepted techniques. As with most technology, there are several elements to consider when deciding on the right solution for your situation. Maintenance requirements, operational feasibility, and overall costs should all be weighed against the overarching needs of the community.

Our team helps select the right-sized treatment option after a thorough and unbiased evaluation of the facts. Whether retrofitting an existing facility or designing a new one, we can present recommendations for the treatment process that provides the proper balance for your community.

Funding & Permitting Assistance for Water Quality Improvements

Snyder & Associates understands that most utilities face an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their systems up-to-date and compliant. Fortunately, state and federal funding is available in many locations to help relieve the financial burden facing communities. With years of knowledge and experience with outside funding sources, our team is able to guide you through the necessary steps to acquire critical project funding. No matter where your community is located, we’ll assist you in navigating all program requirements, along with completing and submitting funding applications.

Likewise, our team is able to coordinate the extensive permitting process typically required for water quality improvement projects. Our experience and relationships with regulatory agencies help to keep projects on schedule and on budget.

Addressing PFAS in Your Community’s Water Supply

At Snyder & Associates, we work with clients and regulators to generate a clear understanding of PFAS chemicals and continue our efforts to provide accurate information while developing long-term solutions. If you are concerned that your community may have elevated PFAS levels in the drinking water supply, the Snyder & Associates team is prepared to create a plan that meets the needs of your community, along with current and future water quality regulations.

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