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Public Utilities & Water Conservation

Posted on: October 31, 2022

"Forever Chemicals" Not Detected in Athens-Clarke County Drinking Water

No PFAS indicated with letters inside of a red circle with a line across

Recent test results detected no PFAS in Athens-Clarke County (ACC) drinking water.  The ACC Public Utilities Department (PUD) participated in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's (GA EPD) PFAS monitoring program.  In September 2022, PUD submitted finished drinking water samples to GA EPD to assess the level of PFAS contamination in drinking water and local water sources.  The GA EPD returned laboratory findings in October, reporting Athens drinking water to be below the detection limit for all 18 tests, including PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, and GenX.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are long-lasting chemicals widely used in common household and commercial products.  PFAS are incredibly stable and break down very slowly in the environment, earning them the moniker "forever chemicals." They can accumulate in the body, and research suggests exposure to high levels of PFAS may lead to adverse health effects.   

In June 2022, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued updated health advisories for lifetime exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), two common types of PFAS.  At the same time, EPA also issued final health advisories for two other PFAS, perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS) and hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt ("GenX chemicals").  The health advisories indicate the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected.  The EPA health advisories are non-regulatory and non-enforceable.  

The EPA is developing a proposed National Drinking Water Regulation to address and provide regulatory limits for PFOA and PFOS.  EPA expects to finalize the rule by the end of 2023.  In anticipation, the GA EPD initiated a proactive three-year strategic project to assess current PFAS levels in drinking water across Georgia in 2021.  Currently, EPD is sampling all surface water and groundwater public drinking water systems serving populations of 100,000 or more, with ACC PUD falling into this category.

"With good, reliable monitoring data, public water systems will be able to make informed decisions about treatment options to meet future regulatory limits," says Manny Patel, the GA EPD Drinking Water Program Manager.  "Our monitoring project provides ACC PUD and other water systems with valuable information for selecting the proper treatment methods to protect human health and the environment."    

The GA EPD compiles the data into an interactive PFAS Story Map.  The "Current and Future Monitoring" tab provides the analysis results on finished drinking water samples collected from public water systems throughout Georgia.  The laboratory did not detect PFAS in ACC PUD's submitted samples and displayed results as "Below Reporting Limits" (BLR). 

"PUD shares the EPA and EPD's desire and efforts to keep harmful PFAS out of our drinking water," says Hollis Terry, PUD Director.  "Our water professionals are committed to protecting public health and providing quality drinking water to our customers."

PUD will next test for PFAS in 2024 as part of the EPA's Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5).  The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that once every five years, the EPA issue a list of unregulated contaminants for monitoring by public water systems.  UCMR 5 requires sample collection for 30 compounds, 29 of which are PFAS.  

Current results from the PFAS testing, quarterly tap water lab analyses, and the annual Drinking Water Quality Report are available on the ACC PUD website.

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