Tampa Bay Water’s top priority is providing high-quality, clean, safe drinking water for our member governments – Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, and the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The water we provide is safe and meets or is better than state and federal drinking water regulations.
We understand PFAS are a concern for all communities, including here in Tampa Bay, and we want to help residents understand the facts about PFAS and how it affects Tampa Bay Water.
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 firefighting foam, carpet manufacturing and other industrial processes. 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 these products are used and discarded, they can release PFAS into the environment, including drinking water sources.
Find out more about PFAS from EPA and the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
EPA, and the state of Florida, have not yet regulated PFAS in drinking water; however, in March 2023, EPA took a step forward in the regulation process and announced proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA and PFOS at 4 parts per trillion (ppt). EPA is expected to release final Maximum Contaminant Levels by the end of 2023.
In 2022, EPA set updated interim Health Advisory Levels for PFOA and PFOS. EPA’s updated interim Health Advisory Level for PFOA is 0.004 ppt. EPA’s updated interim Health Advisory Level for PFOS is 0.02 ppt.
How much is a part per trillion? One ppt is roughly the equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools or one second in 32,000 years.
The updated interim Health Advisory Levels for PFOA and PFOS are not regulatory limits and are below what current laboratory testing technology can detect. Health Advisories often serve as interim guidance before EPA develops formal regulations or Maximum Contaminant Levels.
EPA continually studies unregulated contaminants under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to collect data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water but do not have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The UCMR provides the scientifically valid data needed to regulate, previously unregulated, contaminants in drinking water. EPA regularly monitors and evaluates water quality data and human health effects studies involving these unregulated contaminants to ensure safe drinking water standards.
The fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) requires sample collection for 30 chemical contaminants by utilities, including PFAS, between 2023 and 2025 using EPA’s approved analytical methods.
It can be a lengthy process to set drinking water regulations, but it is important that EPA completes its thorough, scientific process to fully understand the potential health impacts, Maximum Contaminant Levels, analytical methods, and treatment methods to provide public utilities with proven, consistent standards.
Tampa Bay Water and its member utilities are participating in EPA’s nationwide, UCMR 5 study to identify PFAS concentrations, which involves testing treated drinking water. This helps EPA set regulations for PFAS. Tampa Bay Water and five of its members begin testing in July 2023. The City of Tampa began testing in January 2023.
PFAS do not originate in drinking water supplies, and Tampa Bay Water’s raw drinking water sources are not located near industrial and manufacturing facilities known to produce PFAS materials. Tampa Bay Water is participating in EPA’s UCMR 5 study and will test the regional treated drinking water in 2023. This study will use EPA’s approved analytical methods that can detect PFAS in drinking water supplies at lower levels than the previous study conducted in 2013, at which time no PFAS were found in regional drinking water supplies.
As part of Tampa Bay Water’s ongoing effort to enhance water quality, we are studying the effectiveness of various treatment options to lower total organic carbon, which simplifies water chemistry and allows our member governments greater operational control. The treatment options used to lower total organic carbon also have capabilities to address PFAS compounds and other contaminants of emerging concern.
When EPA sets regulations for PFAS, Tampa Bay Water will meet those regulations using methods recognized by EPA as the most effective for treating PFAS.
Tampa Bay Water also filed a lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers, sellers and distributors to protect its members and their residents from potential financial impacts of removing PFAS from the drinking water sources and supply. We believe it’s important to hold polluters responsible for these costs and not the residents of Tampa Bay.
An important step in this process was for the litigation team to test the region’s drinking water sources to determine if there are detectible levels of PFAS. Find those sampling results here.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made compounds that include up to 5,000 chemicals. 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 firefighting foam, carpet manufacturing and other industrial processes.
Find out more about PFAS from EPA and the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
EPA is responsible for regulating drinking water. EPA has not regulated PFAS in drinking water but has established proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA and PFOA at 4 parts per trillion (ppt). EPA is expected to announce final regulations for PFOA and PFOA by the end of 2023.
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 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. 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.
Health Advisory Levels provide information on contaminants that may cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to be present 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 Health Advisory Levels. Sometimes, the advisory is lower than what current analytical methods can detect. EPA also considers exposure to PFAS beyond drinking water (food, air, consumer products, etc.) when setting Health Advisory Levels.
EPA’s Health Advisory Levels are not regulatory limits. The levels provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. EPA’s Health Advisory Levels 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 Advisory Levels are used with other factors to develop EPA’s regulated Maximum Contaminant Levels.
EPA first issued a Health Advisory Level for PFAS in 2016 at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Because of further research and as EPA determines its regulatory approach, EPA issued a lower Health Advisory Level.
In June 2022, EPA set updated interim Health Advisory Levels at 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. These are microscopic levels, and trace amounts. For perspective, one ppt is equal to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools or one second in 31.7 million years.
It’s important to note that these new Health Advisory Levels are below the reliable detection capability of current scientific equipment. To put this in context, scientists can currently detect PFAS compounds at two ppt.
Maximum Contaminant Levels are regulated and enforceable, and is a standard established by 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.
EPA regularly monitors and evaluates water quality data and human health effects studies involving unregulated contaminants to establish Maximum Contaminant Levels. This process is called the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.
EPA estimates it will issue PFAS regulations by the end of 2023. The agency announced proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels for PFOA and PFOS in March 2023.
EPA identifies contaminants to regulate in drinking water to protect public health. 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, EPA is required once every five years to issue a new list of up to 30 unregulated contaminates for which public water systems must monitor. This is done through the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR. The intent of this rule is to provide baseline occurrence data that 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 your exposure to PFAS. You can identify PFAS in products by looking at ingredient lists for “fluoro” or “perfluoro.” 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 to reduce your exposure.
You can make your voice heard about PFAS in several ways. Expressing concern to your legislators can help bring greater attention 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.
PFAS do not originate in drinking water. PFAS are slow to break down in the environment and can move far from their original use areas. The manufacturing, use and discarding of these products put PFAS into the environment, where, over time, they may end up in untreated drinking water sources. 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 joined a lawsuit against manufacturers, sellers and distributors of PFAS to protect its members and rate payers from potential PFAS financial impacts related to sampling, testing and treatment.
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.
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 EPA’s 2013-2015 study of Tampa Bay regional drinking water.
If you are concerned about the possibility of PFAS in your drinking water and you are served by a private well, 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, EPA recommends that residents reach out to their local public health department, state, or responsible party, who may be able to help provide support for testing. 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. The typical cost at a qualified testing lab is several hundred dollars per sample.
Both EPA and AWWA offer additional information on PFAS.