RD696 - A Status Report on Establishing Regulatory Limits for PFAS, Chromium (VI), and 1,4-Dioxane in Virginia Drinking Water – November 1, 2020
In its 2020 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed and Governor Northam signed two bills directing the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to study the occurrence of specified per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminants in drinking water in Virginia (Acts of Assembly Chapter 611, House Bill (HB) 586) and to promulgate regulations establishing maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for specified PFAS, Chromium (VI), and 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water (Acts of Assembly Chapter 1097, HB1257). HB586 became effective on July 1, 2020; HB1257 becomes effective January 1, 2022, but requires VDH to report to the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on Education and Health and the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions on the status of research related to MCLs by November 1, 2020, and submit a final report by October 1, 2021. This report discusses the status of VDH’s work to satisfy the requirements of HB586 and HB1257.
To implement HB586 and HB1257, staff from VDH’s Office of Drinking Water (ODW) will provide administrative support, technical guidance, form a workgroup, plan, design and conduct a PFAS monitoring study as required by HB586. Information about PFAS contamination in drinking water in Virginia will inform the development and implementation of MCLs as required by HB1257. The Virginia PFAS Workgroup will consist of representatives from various stakeholder groups such as waterworks operators and owners, environmental advocacy groups, chemical manufacturers, subject matter experts, and the general public.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are man-made, industrially produced compounds consisting of carbon-chain molecules where the carbon atoms are fully (per-) or partially (poly-) surrounded by fluorine atoms, except where the carbons connect. PFAS production began in the 1940s and there are more than 4,000 different chemicals in the PFAS family. A wide variety of products, including stain-resistant fabric coatings, non-stick coatings, food packaging, and firefighting foam contain PFAS. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) are two of the most extensively produced and studied chemicals in the PFAS family. PFOA/PFOS are very persistent in the environment and the human body, meaning they do not break down and can accumulate over time. Exposure to humans can occur by eating, inhaling, or even touching the product.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that scientists have found traces of these PFAS (one or more) in the blood of nearly all the people they tested. Possible health effects associated with exposure to chemicals in the PFAS family include developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes). PFAS have varying half-life in humans (PFOA – 3.8 years, PFOS – 5.4 years, PFBS (perfluorobutane sulfonate) – 4 months).
From 2013 to 2015, EPA evaluated the occurrence of PFOA, PFOS, and 4 other PFAS compounds at 4,920 public water systems (known as "waterworks" in Virginia) across the U.S. as part of its third "Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule" (UCMR3) evaluation. UCMR3 had reporting limits of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) and 40 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, respectively. Nationally, EPA found 1.6% of samples had the presence of one or more PFAS at 4.0% of waterworks. The data did not reveal significant occurrences of PFOA or PFOS in Virginia; however, two Virginia waterworks detected PFAS compounds. Follow-up sampling at the waterworks did not identify the source or an impact on drinking water supplies.
On May 16, 2016, EPA issued a Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ppt for combined PFOA and PFOS. This is a lifetime advisory. As a result of the Heath Advisory, several states have sampled for PFAS in their public water systems to evaluate PFAS occurrence; others are in the process of sampling and evaluating PFAS occurrence. Several states have developed regulatory limits for PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS that are lower than EPA's Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 ppt. In 2019, EPA held a national leadership summit for PFAS, developed a PFAS management plan, and stated that it would decide whether to regulate PFAS chemicals by December 2019. On February 20, 2020, EPA announced its proposed decision to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. EPA sought public comment on its proposed regulatory determinations for eight contaminants listed on the fourth Contaminant Candidate List and its proposal to regulate PFOS and PFOA. EPA also asked for information and data on other PFAS substances, as well as sought comment on potential monitoring requirements and the regulatory approaches EPA is considering for PFAS chemicals.
There are treatment options available for PFAS, but they are expensive. Conventional water treatment processes are ineffective at removing or destroying PFAS. Reverse osmosis (RO) is very effective, but expensive and yields a waste stream of concentrated PFAS. Granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration can be effective in removing some (but not all) PFAS. The GAC must be regenerated or replaced at site-specific intervals, and the regeneration process can result in sending the fluorine compounds into the atmosphere. Ion exchange (IX) can remove some PFAS, but the resins create disposal problems.
The occurrence of chromium (VI) and 1,4-dioxane in Virginia has not been studied, nor has a public health risk assessment of these chemicals in drinking water been evaluated.