U.S. EPA may get around to mandatory limits for drinking water later this year.
Georgia and Florida have no mandatory limits for these per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Georgia EPD is monitoring drinking water (mostly clean) and some surface water (in north Georgia, with some bad results). FDEP “ continues its efforts to investigate and understand PFAS in the environment and the ecological and human health risks associated with PFAS contamination.”
My backup drinking water is rainwater collection. Probably the charcoal filters I use remove PFOAS, although there is some doubt about that. Most likely my deep well water is not affected. Yet.
Nobody filters wildlife drinking water in streams and springs. Apparently we’re going to have to find a way to do that: “Meanwhile, 3M, formerly the major US manufacturer of PFOA and sole maker of PFOS, phased out production of the molecules two decades ago, Cousins and his colleagues note. These two chemicals and several other PFAS are known to be cycling between surface water—notably oceans—and the atmosphere.”
And stop more PFAS contamination, as the underlying study says: “Because of the poor reversibility of environmental exposure to PFAS and their associated effects, it is vitally important that PFAS uses and emissions are rapidly restricted.”
Cheryl Hogue, Chemical & Engineering News, August 2, 2022, A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 27, PFOA in rain worldwide exceeds EPA advisory level: Amounts of PFAS in precipitation called “practically irreversible”,
Rain and snow around the world contain higher concentrations of a toxic, persistent industrial chemical than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory level for the substance in drinking water, a new study says (Env. Sci. Technol. 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02765).
Previous studies show that precipitation in urban, rural, and remote areas of Antarctica and Tibet had more than 0.004 part per trillion (ppt or ng/L), which is the EPA’s lifetime exposure health advisory level for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
The EPA introduced the PFOA advisory level, which isn’t a regulatory limit that US drinking water suppliers must meet, in June. The EPA sets such levels as recommendations for when water utilities should notify customers of contaminants. To set the level for PFOA, the agency relied on data linking exposure to this substance to suppression of people’s immune responses to vaccines, cardiovascular harm, and interference with the development of fetuses and babies. The EPA plans to issue mandatory limits, which the Safe Drinking Water Act requires to take into account analytical and economic factors, for PFOA and five other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) later this year.
“Based on the latest US guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink,” says Ian Cousins, an environmental organic chemistry professor at Stockholm University, who led the research.
The American Chemistry Council is taking the EPA to court over the advisory levels for PFOA and a related compound, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), in drinking water. The industry organization, which includes companies that may be liable for cleanup of the chemicals, claims the agency did not use the best available peer-reviewed data to establish those levels. PFOS poses health hazards similar to PFOA’s, according to the EPA.
Meanwhile, 3M, formerly the major US manufacturer of PFOA and sole maker of PFOS, phased out production of the molecules two decades ago, Cousins and his colleagues note. These two chemicals and several other PFAS are known to be cycling between surface water—notably oceans—and the atmosphere.
Such cycling means that levels of PFAS in rainwater “will be practically irreversible,” the paper concludes.
PFOA and PFOS have been included in foams used to extinguish liquid fuel fires. PFOA was also a processing aid for making fluoropolymers. PFOS was used in water- and stain-proofing applied to leather and fabrics.
Precipitation across most of the world, with the exception of Antarctica and Tibet, exceeded the EPA’s health advisory level of 0.02 ppt for PFOS, the study says. Similarly, the researchers found that precipitation in much of the world exceeded the Danish drinking water limit of 2 ppt for a combination of four PFAS—perfluorononanoic acid, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, PFOA, and PFOS.
Ian T. Cousins*, Jana H. Johansson, Matthew E. Salter, Bo Sha, and Martin Scheringer Environ. Sci. Technol. 2022, 56, 16, 11172–11179, August 2, 2022, Outside the Safe Operating Space of a New Planetary Boundary for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS),
ABSTRACT: It is hypothesized that environmental contamina- tion by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) defines a separate planetary boundary and that this boundary has been exceeded. This hypothesis is tested by comparing the levels of four selected perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) (i.e., perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane- sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)) in various global environmental media (i.e., rainwater, soils, and surface waters) with recently proposed guideline levels. On the basis of the four PFAAs considered, it is concluded that (1) levels of PFOA and PFOS in rainwater often greatly exceed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels and the sum of the aforementioned four PFAAs (Σ4 PFAS) in rainwater is often above Danish drinking water limit values also based on Σ4 PFAS; (2) levels of PFOS in rainwater are often above Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water; and (3) atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values. It is, therefore, concluded that the global spread of these four PFAAs in the atmosphere has led to the planetary boundary for chemical pollution being exceeded. Levels of PFAAs in atmospheric deposition are especially poorly reversible because of the high persistence of PFAAs and their ability to continuously cycle in the hydrosphere, including on sea spray aerosols emitted from the oceans. Because of the poor reversibility of environmental exposure to PFAS and their associated effects, it is vitally important that PFAS uses and emissions are rapidly restricted.
Thanks to WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter for spotting this publication.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®