EPA's new PFAS standards for clean water cheered for saving lives. Costs expected to rise.
PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth mom and safe water activist Andrea Amico said she felt “incredibly validated” when federal regulators announced they were setting national standards for several PFAS chemicals.
“It’s important because it’s going to set enforceable drinking water standards for certain PFAS to prevent exposure. The levels they’ve proposed are very low at 4 parts per trillion,” Amico said during a recent interview. “The first provisional health advisories were 200 and 400 parts per trillion.
“I have been sounding the alarm on the concerns for the chemicals for a long time,” she added.
Amico's children and husband were among the thousands of people at Pease International Tradeport, the former Air Force base, working or attending day care, who were exposed to PFAS chemicals, which contaminated a city-owned well, leading to it being shut down in 2014.
More local news:Seacoast real estate agent suspended. RE/MAX closing Dover, Exeter, Hampton franchises.
EPA recently announced it is proposing to establish legally enforceable levels, called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), for six types of PFAS in drinking water.
PFOA and PFOS, which were found at high levels in the city well at Pease, will be regulated as individual contaminants under the EPA’s proposal at 4 parts per trillion. PFHxS, PFNA, PFBS, and HFPO-DA (commonly referred to as GenX Chemicals) are set to be regulated as a PFAS mixture.
EPA expects that if fully implemented, the rule will prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses, agency officials said in a statement.
If the new standards are put in place, public water systems will be required to treat to remove PFAS if they’re found at levels higher than the standards and systems will be required to notify the public about PFAS levels.
Amico looks forward with happiness, but also pauses to reflect
Amico acknowledged the recent PFAS policy announcement, which was touted in a White House press release that quoted her, filled her “with a mixture of emotions.”
While she is “elated” by the EPA’s actions, she is also “scared and sad to think of the levels of PFAS in the drinking water at Pease in 2014 and what my family, our community, and millions of others have been exposed to.”
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics. They also have a range of applications in the aerospace, aviation, automotive and electronics industries, among others.
Labrie brothers at it again: Revival of 'tired' Portsmouth Health Food building approved
In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with human hormones, according to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Higher standards will bring higher costs across the country
Amico also understands the new standards “will definitely have financial implications within our own cities and many other communities" nationally.
“It will be expensive to put in filtration to stop PFAS in our water, but it’s less expensive than allowing people to be exposed to these chemicals in terms of the health effects they will suffer,” she said. “This will save lives, it will save people from getting cancer and getting chronic illnesses.”
Brian Goetz, Portsmouth’s deputy director of public works, said the city has been anticipating new regulations.
“We’re not caught unaware. Certainly the numbers give us something to look toward,” Goetz said during an interview this week.
The new numbers for PFOA and PFOS mean “treatment probably will be likely needed at a couple of the Portsmouth or Greenland wells,” he said.
The city has already reached out to an engineer who is evaluating the treatment needs at both those sites, Goetz said.
Portsmouth has set aside about $2.5 million in its capital improvement plan for expanded treatment at city wells, he said.
“Costs are increasingly rising for water and wastewater projects. We won’t be alone,” Goetz said. “They’ll be a lot of places all throughout the country in the same market.”
Never miss a story: Follow local news on the Seacoastonline mobile app or the Fosters.com mobile app
City officials closed the Haven well at Pease in 2014 after it became contaminated with PFAS from firefighting foam used at the former Air Force Base, which is a Superfund clean-up site.
Seven years later, the city began using the well again after the installation of the Pease Water Treatment Facility, which was designed to remove PFAS from the well.
The contamination of the well forced the city to be “at the forefront” of the PFAS problem back in 2014, Goetz said.
The Pease treatment facility has reduced PFAS in the Haven well to non-detect levels, Goetz said.
“It involves science and health. We do the best as we can as water system operators and mangers,” Goetz said, pledging his department will continue to explore ways to best protect the city’s water supply.
Dover also dealing with PFAS challenges
“Unlike nine years ago when we first talked to you about this, we’re not alone with this anymore,” Goetz said of the PFAS issue. “It’s a nationwide problem now.”
John Storer is Dover’s community services director, overseeing the city’s public works.
When Dover officials heard about the proposed EPA standards, “we discussed it internally and with our experts,” he said.
The potential new EPA standards come as work is continuing on the city’s new water treatment plant, which is being built to remove PFAS from the Pudding Hill aquifer, Storer said.
Tests done so far on the new facility have been successful in terms of removing PFAS, he said.
“We were able to treat down to a level of non-detect,” he said during a recent interview. The wells at the Pudding Hill aquifer will remain offline “until the treatment plant is done,” he said.
The plant will cost about $15 million to build, Storer said, but the results so far “have been very encouraging.”
City staff are already testing for between 24 to 26 different PFAS, Storer said, but he expects that number will increase.
“It will likely be the first of many to come as the science gets better and we learn about more PFAS,” he said. “We think we’re pretty well positioned to deal with it in the short term.”
Working in the water industry, he’s learned an old saying that might have been first said by Benjamin Franklin.
“You learn the worth of water when the well runs dry. I think it’s a resource we take for granted sometime,” Storer said.
Todd Selig, Durham’s town administrator, noted that based upon “historical PFAS testing, the Durham/UNH water system meets or exceeds the newly proposed EPA federal standards of 4 parts per trillion.”
He said, “New Hampshire and its water supply systems already do lead the nation in addressing PFAS." He added the town has been informed New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services will coordinate with EPA as "the federal regulatory process proceeds."
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: EPA's PFAS rules for water praised for saving lives. Costs to rise.