Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made compounds that, since the 1940s, have been widely used in the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials including Teflon-coated products. They are also used in firefighting foam and in industrial processes. The 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 PFAS can be found in fire-fighting foams, stain repellants, nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, cosmetics, paints, insecticides, food wrappers and many other household products. They do not break down in the environment and move easily into water.
PFAS are not currently regulated by the federal or Florida government in drinking water; however, the EPA set updated interim health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS. The EPA’s updated interim health advisory level for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt). The EPA’s updated interim health advisory level for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is 0.02 ppt.
Find out more about PFAS from the EPA and the American Water Works Association (AWWA), or download the Water Research Foundation and American Water Works Association: PFAS Cycles Brochure.
Drinking water is not a source of PFAS, and Tampa Bay Water’s drinking water sources are not located near industrial and manufacturing facilities known to produce PFAS materials. Tampa Bay Water is participating in the EPA’s study of PFAS and will test Tampa Bay regional drinking water under the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) in 2023-2025, which will use the EPA’s approved analytical methods that can detect PFAS in drinking water at lower levels than the previous study conducted in 2013.
Water also connects all of us. Vast as it may seem, our world is a closed system. There is no such thing as “new” water. All water is shared, and it flows in and out of streams, rivers, oceans, and each of us. Along the way, it often carries the things we put in it, including chemicals like PFAS.
Water utilities are responsible for maintaining water quality according to regulations while also keeping drinking water affordable. Treatment to remove PFAS from water can happen at utilities and in our homes – using technologies like activated carbon and reverse osmosis – but treatment can be expensive. Our country’s regulatory process helps make sure we are delivering the safest water at a cost affordable to all.
Tampa Bay Water filed a lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers, sellers and distributors to protect its members and rate payers from potential financial impacts related to PFAS pollution. The lawsuit involves testing to determine if elevated levels of PFAS can be detected in untreated water sources. We will keep our member governments and Tampa Bay residents informed throughout this process.
As part of Tampa Bay Water’s on-going effort to enhance water quality, we are studying the effectiveness of various treatment options to lower total organic carbon. Total organic carbon is not harmful but lowering it reduces naturally occurring compounds in water, simplifies water chemistry and allows our member governments greater operational control. The treatment options used to lower total organic carbon may also have capabilities to address PFAS compounds and other contaminants of emerging concern.
Additionally, our interconnected water supply system allows us to shift production as needed. If PFAS were found at levels that cause concern, we could shift production or modify operations to meet our members’ needs.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made compounds that include up to 5,000 chemicals. Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been widely used in the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials including Teflon-coated products. They are also used in firefighting foam and in industrial processes.
The EPA is responsible for regulating drinking water. The EPA has not regulated PFAS in drinking water but has established updated interim health advisory levels for lifetime exposure from drinking water at 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 part per trillion for PFOS. A health advisory level is commonly the first step in EPA developing a regulation.
One part per trillion is roughly the equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized pools or one second in 31.7 million years.
The EPA continually studies unregulated contaminants, such as PFAS, to determine if there is new scientific data to support adding them to the list of regulated contaminants in drinking water. These studies are done through the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule process.
There are currently no federal regulations that establish maximum contaminant levels for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA regulates the safe levels for hundreds of compounds in drinking water. The EPA developed a PFAS Strategic Roadmap in October 2021 to address the health risks and is in the process of setting maximum contaminant levels for PFAS within the scientifically rigorous framework of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A proposal is expected in fall 2022.
Health advisories provide information on contaminants that may cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. A health advisory level is the minimum concentration of a compound which may present health risks to an individual over a lifetime of exposure. Because the health effects associated with long-term exposure to a compound may be uncertain, EPA tends to set lower target levels when they issue a health advisory. Sometimes, the advisory is lower than current analytical methods can detect. The EPA also considers exposure to PFAS beyond drinking water (food, air, consumer products, etc.) when setting health advisory levels.
The EPA’s health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. The EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their lives from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
Health advisories serve as interim guidance before EPA develops a formal regulation and are subject to change as more scientific information is developed.
The EPA first issued a health advisory level for PFAS in 2016 at 70 parts per trillion. Because of further research and as EPA determines its regulatory approach, it has created a lower health advisory.
In June 2022, the EPA set updated interim health advisory levels at 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. These are microscopic levels, and trace amounts. For perspective, 1 part per trillion (ppt) is equal to 1 drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools or one second in 31.7 million years.
It’s important to note that these new health advisories are below the reliable detection capability of current scientific equipment. (To put this in context, scientists can currently detect PFAS compounds at 2 parts per trillion.)
Maximum contaminant levels are regulated and enforceable, and health advisory levels are not. The maximum contaminant level is a standard established by the EPA, under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It represents an acceptable level of a chemical under specified conditions that ensures the safety of a public drinking water supply.
The EPA estimates it will propose PFAS regulations by the end of 2023.
The EPA identifies contaminants to regulate in drinking water to protect public health. The EPA sets regulatory limits for the amounts of certain contaminants, including PFAS, in drinking water provided by public water systems. These standards are required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Under the 1996 amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is required once every five years to issue a new list of up to 30 unregulated constituents for which public water systems must monitor. This is done through a rule called the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR. The intent of this rule is to provide baseline occurrence data that the EPA can combine with toxicological research to make decisions about future drinking water regulations.
PFAS exposure can vary depending on your local environment, but you can take steps to reduce the PFAS around you. You can identify PFAS in products by looking for “fluoro” or “perfluoro” in an ingredients list. Choosing products that do not have PFAS can require some research, but it is an effective way to reduce your exposure. It can also mean giving up some product features such as “non-stick,” or “water- or stain-resistant.” Consider replacing older and worn-out products with these features.
You can make your voice heard about PFAS in several ways. Expressing concern to your legislators can help bring greater focus to the issue. This can potentially help stop the production of PFAS locally and nationally, prevent the sale of products that have PFAS, strengthen regulatory actions taken to control PFAS, and increase funding for water utilities to remove PFAS from drinking water. You can find your congressional representatives here.
Drinking water is not a source of PFAS. PFAS are slow to break down in the environment and can move far from their original use areas. The manufacturing and use of these products put PFAS into the environment, where, over time, they may end up in drinking water supplies. When spilled into lakes or rivers used as sources of drinking water, they can get into drinking water supplies. PFAS in the air can also end up in rivers and lakes used for drinking water.
Tampa Bay Water’s drinking water sources are not located near industrial and manufacturing facilities known to produce PFAS materials, and no PFAS were found during the EPA’s 2013-2015 study of Tampa Bay regional drinking water.
Tampa Bay Water joined a lawsuit against manufacturers, sellers and distributors of PFAS to protect its members and rate payers from potential PFAS financial impacts (e.g., source contamination mitigation or treatment expenses).
It’s important that polluters are held accountable, so public utilities and their customers do not bear the cost to treat drinking water for PFAS.
The lawsuit involves testing to determine if elevated levels of PFAS can be detected in untreated water sources.
Tampa Bay Water’s and its member governments’ top priority is providing clean, safe drinking water. A 2013-2015 study of Tampa Bay regional drinking water found no PFAS in member government water supplies.
If elevated levels of PFAS are found in untreated water sources, we would take appropriate action to confirm PFAS are not in the treated drinking water supply, assuming those data are not already available from the pending EPA study.
Tampa Bay Water special counsel’s technical expert, Weston & Sampson, and analytical services contractor, Eurofins Lancaster Analytical Laboratories, Inc., are updating their recommendation on an appropriate analytical method for PFAS testing on the raw source water. In addition, the technical expert and Tampa Bay Water's water quality team are reviewing recent analytical method changes published by EPA. Raw water testing may begin in late 2022 or early 2023. Results are expected approximately six weeks after the samples are collected.
If you are concerned about the possibility of PFAS in your drinking water and you are served by a private well, the EPA recommends testing your drinking water. Laboratory analysis is necessary to determine if your water contains PFAS chemicals. Qualified testing labs can analyze a sample of your water to determine whether PFAS are present and at what concentrations.
In some locations, regulators or manufacturers of PFAS have set up programs to measure PFAS in groundwater. Your local water or health department or drinking water system should know if there is such a program in your area. In addition, the EPA recommends that residents reach out to their local public health department or state who may be able to help provide support for testing or to seek such support from a responsible party. If no program has been established or support is not available in your area, you can pay to have independent testing done at a qualified testing lab (typical cost is several hundred dollars per sample).
Both the EPA and the AWWA offer additional information on PFAS.