Pa., Del. take the first steps towards hard PFAS limits for water

Vikki Prettyman is now part of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc., or SERCAP, which helps people get clean water. Like her Pennsylvania counterparts, she, too, wishes Delaware had offered a lower MCL.

“We are still discovering the health effects of PFAS. We know a little about it, but we don’t know the full long-term effect PFAS have on our bodies… So what level is considered safe and acceptable? I think the lower we can go the better,” Prettyman said.

However, she also hopes water suppliers and customers won’t be left with the financial burden of keeping PFAS levels low. Prettyman argued that the polluters should be the ones footing the bill for necessary but costly filtration systems and required maintenance.

“No child should have to go through high PFAS in their system that could cause life-threatening medical issues. The number one concern is the health and safety of our constituents,” Prettyman said. “But also, municipalities, utilities, shouldn’t be penalized for not having the money to install such expensive equipment and to take care of the water.”

Mack said Delaware wanted to make sure that, while protecting human health, it didn’t unduly load water supply systems and inadvertently increase charges for their customers.

There are two main treatment technologies: carbon filtration and ion exchange. The technologies are not specific to PFAS, which means many companies may already have them in place to deal with other types of contaminants, Mack said.

These treatment systems, however, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The state ensures that water providers are aware of the state’s drinking water working capital and opportunities to apply for loans or grants for water treatment.

“We work to find the balance between what labs can reasonably detect, what we can reasonably treat, and the effects on human health,” Mack said.

Likewise, Pennsylvania will help water providers find financial assistance, Daniels said. Additionally, federal funding may be in the works. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill includes billions of dollars to help states clean up PFAS.

“I think with infrastructure funding that states are still waiting for more information on, it’s possible that a lot more funding will be available to address issues like PFAS,” Daniels said.

Some suppliers have taken the initiative to set lower levels of PFAS for their drinking water. For example, Aqua set its own internal standard of 13 parts per trillion in 2020, said Dr. Chris Crockett, the company’s vice president/manager of environment, safety and sustainability.

“We are thrilled that the PA DEP is offering an MCL and we look forward to this being an important first step in the fight against PFAS in Pennsylvania. Aqua…looks forward to our continued partnership with the PA DEP to address this emerging issue,” Crockett said in an emailed statement.

Residents and stakeholders in Pennsylvania and Delaware will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposals beginning later this month.

Pennsylvania could have a final MCL decision early next year if all goes according to plan. The MCLs would come into effect upon publication of the final decision, and formal monitoring is expected to begin in January 2024.

Delaware hopes to get its first required samples from water systems in the spring of 2023.

Prettyman encouraged people with private wells, which won’t be protected by MCLs, to purchase filtration systems if they don’t already have one. Residents can contact SERCAP get help installing a filtration system. NSF international and the CDC can also provide information.

Delaware State Rep. Bryan Shupe is pushing to pass legislation that would provide subsidies to low-to-moderate income households to install filtration systems in their homes if their water contains contaminants.

“Only municipal systems or community water systems are regulated by the Drinking Water Quality Act. It is therefore important to inform our private well owners that you should test your wells annually,” said Prettyman. “And if you have a contaminant, then there’s a filtration system you can have installed.”

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