Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of industries around the world since the 1940s. They include Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals.

Both PFOA and PFOS have been shown to be persistent in the human body, and PFAS is estimated to be present in the blood of almost all U.S. residents.

PFAS have been used to make cookware, carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials that are resistant to water, grease, and stains. They are also used in firefighting foams and several industrial processes.

While drinking water is the primary pathway of exposure to PFAS, they can also be present in soil, air, food, and materials found in homes and workplaces.


What are the Health Risks Associated with PFAS?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals and humans. There is also evidence of increased cancer risks from exposure to PFOA.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is still learning about the health effects of exposure to individual compounds and mixtures of different PFAS.

After reviewing and evaluating toxicological studies, EPA has issued updated drinking water Health Advisory Levels (HALs) for four (4) PFAS on June 15, 2022. These advisories indicate the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur. The advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory; however, they provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methods, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination.

  • Interim HAL for PFOA: 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt)

  • Interim HAL for PFOS: 0.02 ppt

  • Final HAL for GenX (replacement for PFOA): 10 ppt

  • Final HAL for PFBS (replacement for PFOA): 2,000 ppt

The new HALs are currently below the detection limits for all testing methods approved by the EPA. The WVDEP is carefully monitoring this new development and is working with the EPA on how to address drinking water sources with known exceedances of the new HALs.


What is West Virginia Doing About PFAS?

Interagency PFAS Work Group

While the EPA continues to study the toxicity of PFAS chemicals, West Virginia is working to determine the extent of potential contamination within the state. A West Virginia PFAS Work Group was convened in 2019, consisting of members from the WVDEP, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), and the United States Geological Service (USGS), with the goal of determining the best path forward for studying PFAS. This collaborative working group meets quarterly to share developing news on these emerging contaminants, discuss PFAS investigation activities in the State, evaluate any recently produced data, determine State needs and action plans based on these updates (including implementation of federal regulations).

Statewide PFAS Sampling in Public Source-Water Supplies

During the 2020 Legislative Session, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 (SCR46) requesting the WVDEP and the WVDHHR to cooperatively propose and initiate a public source-water supply study to sample PFAS for all community water systems in West Virginia, including schools and daycares that operate treatment systems regulated by the WVDHHR. This resolution recognized the prevalence and potential health risks of certain PFAS compounds and the EPA’s intention to regulate PFAS, including development of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), and acknowledged that it is in the public’s interest to identify the presence and prevalence of specific PFAS chemicals in and near drinking water supplies to protect the health of West Virginians.

The WVDEP and the WVDHHR contracted with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct sampling of pre-treated drinking water for 26 PFAS compounds in all public water systems and 27 schools/daycares. Sampling began in June 2020 and concluded in May 2021.

The WVDEP and the WVDHHR are required to report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on State Water Resources semi-annually on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The two agencies presented the most recent information in June 2022.


Legislation

During the 2021 Legislative Session, the West Virginia Legislature passed HB2722 which amended the Fire Prevention and Control Act, limiting the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS. This legislation went into effect on July 1, 2021 and prohibits use of class B firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals unless (1) the discharge or other use occurs in fire prevention or in response to an emergency firefighting operation or (2) the discharge or other use is for training or testing purposes which occurs at a facility that has implemented containment, storage, treatment, and disposal measures to prevent uncontrolled releases of such class B firefighting foam into the environment.

HB2722 also authorized the State Fire Commission to develop and implement rules pertaining to standard safe practices for the discharge or otherwise use of class B firefighting foam that contains intentionally added PFAS. The State Fire Commission filed W.Va. Legislative Rule 87CSR14 (Use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) for Fire Training Program Purposes) on May 5, 2022, with an effective date of August 1, 2022.


Site Investigations

Through its Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or more commonly referred to as the “Superfund” law) Program, WVDEP coordinates with EPA and the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate sites with known or suspected contamination.

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Next Steps

While the recent study aimed to determine the presence of PFAS compounds in raw water, the WVDEP is now coordinating with DHHR and the USGS to test for these compounds in finished (drinking) water at all sites identified as having PFOA or PFOS detections in the raw water above the new HALs.

Technologies have been proven to reduce PFAS in drinking water to very low levels, such as activated carbon, anion exchange, and high-pressure membranes, and the best approach may vary from one water system to the next.

Federal funding is being made available to address PFAS and the WVDEP intends to apply for this funding to assist small and disadvantaged communities that have been impacted.

State and federal agencies are in the process of learning about the potential health effects from exposure to PFAS. The WVDEP will continue to review all new and relevant information as it becomes available to help protect human health and the environment.


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