PFAS in the Santa Fe River Basin in Florida

Some people are interested in whether PFAS from titanium dioxide (TiO2) mines or other sources is getting into the New or Santa Fe Rivers in Florida.

For example, the new Chemours Trail Ridge South Mine southeast of Starke, Florida, appears to drain into Double Run Creek, which runs into the Santa Fe River.

[PFAS in Santa Fe River from TiO2 Mines?]
PFAS in Santa Fe River from TiO2 Mines?
Detail from WWALS map of the Suwannee River Water Trail.

We don’t know about those rivers yet, because nobody has tested them. We do have a few datapoints for a few city drinking water systems, and they’re all clean, although Newberry, just outside the Basin, is not.

No doubt it is possible to find that data in FDEP’s Oculus Document Management System, in the same way it is possible to win a jackpot in Las Vegas. If you already know about six very specific parameters, sure, Oculus will find it.

[Map: EWG PFAS, Suwannee River Basin, Florida 2023-11-28]
Map: EWG PFAS, Suwannee River Basin, Florida 2023-11-28

So I started with Environmental Working Group (EWG), which has some summary results for Newberry, which are slightly above the proposed limits:

[EWG Newberry Summary 2023-11-28]
EWG Newberry Summary 2023-11-28

PFAS compounds are a class of non-stick, waterproof, stain-resistant compounds used in consumer products and industry. Best known are PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly in 3M’s Scotchgard.

Very low exposure to some PFAS chemicals has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and many other health problems.

Tests of tap water, military bases and industrial sites have found PFAS contamination in more than 3,186 locations in 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories. Drinking water for up to 200 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS.


System name: Newberry Water Treatment Plant

State: Florida

Population served: 3,885

PFAS detected:

ChemicalYears testedMaximum Level (ppt)
Total PFAS20238.9

Source: EWG from and the EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule

Levels listed are for the maximum of each PFAS detected at the time of the tests and do not reflect whether a water system is treating the water to reduce levels.

EWG does not show any place actually in the Suwannee River Basin in Florida with PFAS. Not High Springs, nor any other place.

EWG does list Camp Blanding, right on the edge, which shows lower PFAS in drinking water than Newberry. somewhat outside the Santa Fe River Basin.

City of Newberry Utilities has its 2022 Water Quality Report online:

However, that does not include PFAS, presumably because its NPDES permit does not require PFAS testing.

For complication, Newberry has five water wells, according to that city’s Water Use Permite (WUP) from the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).

[Map: Newberry water wells in SRWMD WUP 2022-12-08]
Map: Newberry water wells in SRWMD WUP 2022-12-08

So it’s not clear which wells EPA is testing, or is it testing output?

EPA ECHO does not seem to include PFAS data, presumably because no permits yet require PFAS levels.

However, if you dig down in the EWG link to EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, you can find a data table for all tests in Florida in 2023. Look under UCMR 5 (2023-2025) Occurrence Data, then under UCMR 5 Data Finder, and in there again under UCMR 5 Data Finder. Select Florida. Then Download Data Table. There’s a copy on the WWALS website of the data table got from EPA today.

The table is not organized by county or watershed. So you’ll need to search by city name or walk through the entire table. I did both.

For Newberry, EPA tested each of Newberry’s two water treatment plants in January and July, almost all below detection level, and almost all below limits. PFBS and PFOA were the exceptions, as in the EWG table. Perhaps interestingly, all the exceptions were at Plant #2 (wells 4 and 5).

That table also includes results for Florida State Prison in Bradford County, all results below detection limits. And Trenton in Gilchrist County and Jasper in Hamilton County, all below detection limits.

And Monticello in Jefferson County, which is not in the Suwannee River Basin, but is in SRWMD. Also all below detection limits.

So I guess that’s good news: High Springs isn’t even on that EPA PFOAS test results list, and the three Suwannee River Basin sites that are on that list all tested below detection limits.

Advanced Environmental can do PFAS testing, with labs in Gainesville or Jacksonville. Those tests appear to cost $299.00.

Last I checked, we can get PFAS test kits for $79 each from cyclopure, per an agreement they have with Waterkeeper Alliance. We collect the water and send it to cyclopure for analysis for about two dozen PFAS.

On June 30, 2022, Suwannee Riverkeeper tested four sites on the Withlacoochee River, including upstream (in Georgia) and downstream (in Florida) of the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Clyattville, Georgia.

[Downstream PFAS sample, Sullivan Launch, 12:38:29, 30.5957780, -83.2602470]
Downstream PFAS sample, Sullivan Launch, 12:38:29, 30.5957780, -83.2602470

We found PFAS in every sample.

[Florida results: State Line Boat Ramp and Sullivan Launch]
Florida results: State Line Boat Ramp and Sullivan Launch

The good news: the amounts were far less than in many rivers in a nationwide Waterkeeper Alliance study.

Also, we found less PFAS downstream from Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) than above (FYI, PCA has both Georgia and a Florida NPDES permits.)

In bad news, PFAS accumulates in fish, and has been found very high in a fish sample from the Alapaha River in Georgia near the GA-FL line.

[Map and data: PFAS in fish in Alapaha River --EWG 2023-01-17]
Map and data: PFAS in fish in Alapaha River –EWG 2023-01-17 Sample taken: 2014. Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), PFAS National Datasets, Ambient Environmental Sampling for PFAS. Available here.

For those who are not aware, WWALS has a volunteer water quality testing program. We are currently testing about weekly mainly for E. coli, plus some other common parameters such as pH, temperature, and conductivity.

Clearly at even $79 a test, we can’t afford to test PFAS weekly, but spot checks would be possible.

We are discussing this question with Our Santa Fe River (OSFR) and other groups, but they are not responsible for the content of this blog post.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!