CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV News) — Forever chemicals have been identified in water systems throughout the state, according to West Virginia’s health officer.
Since 2019, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has worked with the U.S. Geological Survey to test water from 279 public water systems for the presence of PFAS chemicals, said Dr. Matt Christiansen.
Of the 279 water systems tested, 37 were found to have detectable levels of PFAS in their raw water source, 27 of which were found to have detectable levels of PFAS in their finished water.
PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, synthetic chemicals used in consumer products since the 1950s. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment or inside the body.
Of the 27 systems with PFAS in their finished water, 19 were found to have “at least one level” of detectable PFAS chemicals “that could potentially be impacted” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released PFAS standards, Christiansen said.
The testing results are “early and they are preliminary” and don’t indicate the need for immediate measures to be taken, Christiansen said.
“These health impacts are not immediate, they accumulate over time and the Bureau for Public Health has not issued any health advisories,” he said. “The water that you get from your faucet has been and remains one of the safest water sources out there. It’s purified and quality tested by these heroes, these public servants in your local communities at these public service districts.”
Residents who are concerned about potential long-term health impacts are encouraged to purchase water filtration systems, Christiansen said.
“If you are in one of these potentially impacted systems, you could install a home water filtration system that is under-sink or an in-refrigerator system that is rated for PFAS and PFAS filtration,” he said.
The EPA’s first-ever proposed PFAS standards, released in March, seek to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water.
The proposal would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and would regulate four other PFAS — PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX Chemicals — as a mixture.
- PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
- PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.
If finalized, the proposed regulations will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals and require systems to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards.
The EPA anticipates that if fully implemented, the rule would, over time, prevent deaths and reduce serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.
“EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan when the regulations were released. “This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she had been calling for the establishment of PFAS standards for years.
“After years of urging three consecutive administrations of different parties to do so, I’m pleased a safe drinking water standard has finally been issued for PFOA and PFOS,” said Capito, who serves as the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from those who will be impacted by this announcement, including local water systems and ratepayers across the country, on how we can provide assistance for implementation. No one should have to wonder if their water is safe to drink, and it’s critical that we get this important regulation right,” she said.
During the recently concluded 2023 session of the West Virginia Legislature, lawmakers passed House Bill 3189, the PFAS Protection Act.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Clay Riley, R-Harrison, aims to identify and address PFAS substances in the state’s water intakes.
“It helps protect citizens and public water,” Riley said. “It’s going to be something that helps minimize impact on utilities down the road. It allocated a program within the (state) Department of Environmental Protection to help them get ahead of it before the MCLs come down from EPA, so it lessens the burden on cities and public service districts.”