PEORIA — A recent health advisory issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has broad implications about the safety of drinking water in municipalities all over the country.
Issued June 15, the advisory acknowledged what scientists have suspected for some time, that the only safe level of what the EPA calls “forever chemicals” in drinking water is zero. These chemicals have been found in the drinking water of many communities, including Peoria.
Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals used in some industrial processes and in a variety of products, according to the EPA. Because of their slippery properties, PFAS have been used in non-stick coatings on cookware, in packaging, and to make textiles stain-resistant. They are also used in personal care products like shampoos, dental floss and cosmetics. Ultimately, they also can be found in food when fish and livestock are exposed to PFAS in the environment.
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They are called forever chemicals because they do not break down, and when they are ingested they accumulate in the human body. Though the science is still evolving, there is recent evidence these chemicals are harmful even in small amounts. They've been linked to a variety of health ailments, including prostate, kidney and testicular cancers; reproductive harm and high blood pressure in pregnant women; reduction in immune system’s ability to fight infection; and increased levels of cholesterol and obesity, according to the EPA.
What is in Peoria’s water?
According to Illinois American Water’s 2021 water quality report, samples in the Peoria area had between 0 to 9 parts per thousand of six different per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances during water tests run early in 2021.
Though neither the Illinois EPA nor the U.S. EPA has developed enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS, the Illinois EPA requires utilities to notify customers when these chemicals are found to exceed guidance levels. For this reason, Illinois American Water sent notice to central Illinois customers last fall about PFAS in their drinking water.
The notice provided a table detailing each chemical and the amounts found in drinking water during two testing periods early in 2021.
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Karen Cotton, senior manager or external communications for Illinois American Water, said the science and regulations surrounding PFAS is evolving.
"This is one of the most rapidly changing landscapes in drinking water contamination," she said.
Illinois American will continue working with experts in the field to better understand PFAS in the environment, she said.
“We are also actively assessing treatment technologies that can effectively remove PFAS from drinking water because we believe that investment in research is critical for addressing this issue,” she said.
What is the plan for removing PFAS from our drinking water?
A total of $5 billion in grant funding has been allocated in a bipartisan infrastructure plan passed by the federal government last year to help communities facing disproportionate impacts from PFAS contamination, according to the EPA. The funds can be used by small or disadvantaged communities for technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training and installation of centralized treatment systems.
While promises of federal funding are helpful, it’s only a drop in the bucket for what’s needed across the country, when a filter on a single well can cost $500,000, according to USA TODAY.
Emily Remmel, director of regulatory affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents wastewater, water, and sewer utilities across the country, wants the EPA to take more action to get rid of PFAS at the source since they often come from everyday consumer products people use and wash down the drain.
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“Washing your clothes, washing your face, washing your dishes,” Remmel said.
She also wants the EPA to do a better job at the local level assisting with the public health and financial burdens PFAS create.
“This should not be on the backs of municipalities, of ratepayers,” Remmel said.
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: EPA takes first steps to eliminate PFAS from municipal drinking water