Meigs Health Today: Drinking Water PFAS Testing
By Dawn Keller, Registered Environmental Health Specialist
In September of 2019 Governor DeWine directed Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Health (ODH) to analyze the prevalence of PFAS in Ohio’s drinking water. PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are manmade chemicals that are used in products such as carpeting, upholstery, cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam. Meigs County residents may be most familiar with the PFAS compound known as C8, but there are nearly 5000 others. Water samples from across the state were tested to look for the presence of six types of PFAS compounds.According to Ohio EPA, approximately 1550 public drinking water systems were sampled prior to December of 2020. Of the 1550 samples collected, 106 systems had detectable levels of aPFAS compound. Of the 106 positive samples, only two had levels above the 70ppt (parts per trillion) action level set by the US EPA and adopted by the Ohio EPA. In those two cases, immediate corrective actions were taken to ensure safe drinking water. Detailed results of these tests, as well as tests conducted in 2021, can be found on the Ohio EPA’s website: https://epa.ohio.gov.
Many environmental professionals insist the 70ppt action level set by the US EPA is too high and that the level should be a legally enforceable standard, rather than an action level.Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have already set lower standards, and made those standards enforceable by classifying them as Maximum Contaminate Levels (MCL). For example, the MCL for C8 in Michigan is set at 8ppt. If a public water source in Michigan tests higher than 8ppt, they are legally required to take corrective action, such as installing filtration equipment. Some groups, such as the Natural Resource Defense Counsel and the Environmental Working Group, recommend all PFAS limits be set at zero or 1ppt.
Residents who rely on private water sources, such as wells, springs and cisterns, have to arrange and pay for their own PFAS testing. The Meigs County Health Department receives a couple of calls per month from residents asking about testing options. There are seven Drinking Water Sample Collection Services, and five Certified Labs (that will deal directly with individual residents), approved by the Ohio EPA to collect and/or test water samples for PFAS. Information about these companies and their contact information is available at the EPA website.
Testing water for the presence of PFAS is relatively expensive. Lab fees range from $250 to $450 plus costs associated with collection and travel. Here are some things to consider when choosing one of these companies.
-What compounds are they checking for? Some tests cover 18 different PFAS while other tests check for up to 34. The compounds you are concerned about may differ depending on where you live and what contamination sources are upstream of your water source. For example, if you live along the river, it may be a good idea to ask them specifically if they will be checking for C8 and its replacement GenX.
-If you have health issues, and may want to use the test results to prove contamination of your water source for legal reasons,ensure the test will be admissible. If sampling for this purpose, you may be better off using one of the collection services rather than a do-it-yourself lab kit. Be sure to ask the collection serviceif they are using an accredited lab and if their test is admissible in a court of law. Check with an attorney for any legal questions you may have.
-If you do decide to take a sample yourself, you must follow the instructions exactly. Due to the presence of PFAS in everyday items, it is very difficult to obtain a clean sample. Some precautions taken by the professionals, when they come to take a PFAS water sample include: not showering that day, wearing only 100% cotton clothing, no cosmetics, no lotions, not touching food wrappers, and a lab may even send you a special soap to wash your hands with before taking the sample. Not following the lab instructions could lead to a false positive result.
More information about PFAS in drinking water is available at the following links: https://odh.ohio.gov/know-our-programs/private-water-systems-program/water-quality-treatment and https://epa.ohio.gov/monitor-pollution/pollution-issues/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas.