Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made compounds that have been widely used in the manufacturing of clothing, sealants and stains, furniture fabrics, Teflon™-coated products, food packaging, and other materials since the 1940s. They are also used in industrial processes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is focused on a small number of these compounds that may have health effects at very low concentrations, two of which are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
It is not uncommon to find low levels of PFAS in drinking water sources as they are slow to break down when they enter our environment. When products containing PFAS are used and discarded, or manufacturers and industrial users dispose of waste, they can release PFAS into the environment, including drinking water sources.
In 2020, Tampa Bay Water joined a lawsuit against manufacturers, sellers and distributors of PFAS to protect its member utilities and Tampa Bay residents from the potential financial impacts of removing PFAS from the drinking water sources and system.
An important step was for litigation experts to test the region’s drinking water sources to determine if there are any detectible levels of PFAS. The sampling is complete and litigation experts found detectible levels of PFAS in and around some of the regional sources of drinking water.
Finding detectible levels of PFAS shows that Tampa Bay Water has a case for pursuing this lawsuit and having the polluters bear the cost of treatment – not the member governments or the rate payers. It’s important to note that the levels detected, while supporting the case against the polluters, are close to EPA's proposed regulatory limits for PFAS of 4 parts per trillion (ppt).
The region’s drinking water is safe and will remain safe. The litigation testing was on raw, untreated source water. Tampa Bay Water will now test its treated drinking water supply for detectable levels of PFAS at the locations served by the sources where the litigation experts found more than the proposed regulatory limit of 4 ppt.
Tampa Bay Water and its member governments are already scheduled to test the region’s treated drinking water supply starting this summer as part of EPA’s nationwide study to help set regulations for PFAS. While this effort is ahead of the testing done in the EPA study, it will allow us to see if our current blending and treatment processes are removing the PFAS compounds below EPA's proposed regulatory limits.
Results of the treated drinking water testing will help us determine if and where additional treatment is needed once EPA sets PFAS regulations in drinking water.