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Why we must act now to adopt PFAS drinking water standards

Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. But, as a result of lax regulations on dangerous chemicals used in products, drinking water all around the country, including  Washington state, has been contaminated with per and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS), impacting tens of millions of people. PFAS are highly persistent and toxic chemicals linked to immune suppression, decreased fertility, and even cancer.   

Despite this contamination, there are no federally enforceable PFAS standards to ensure drinking water is safe. That’s why we petitioned the state Board of Health in 2017 to adopt state standards for PFAS in drinking water. Right now, chemical companies are not held accountable for PFAS pollution of our water sources, and communities are left vulnerable to health problems and paying for costly PFAS mitigation. 

This is a serious public health problem. PFAS have already been discovered in the drinking water of several Washington communities, including Whidbey Island, Issaquah, Lakewood, Kitsap County, and Airway Heights. And many water systems in our state have never even been tested! 

Since 2017, there have been many delays to the PFAS drinking water standards. Now these standards are back on the table and the Department of Health is asking for public comments on the proposed standards by September 3, 2021.

In our letter to DOH, we thank them for improving the draft standards and ask them to strengthen the proposed standards in the following ways:

  1. Address PFAS as a class. There are more than 5,000 PFAS in the class and the Department of Health is proposing to address five. A class-based approach that requirRead our full letter to the Department of Health here and then es testing and mitigation for all PFAS will inform the department in development of future standards and ensure any mitigation is working to remove all PFAS . 
  2. Do not delay testing or rule implementation until 2023: We strongly urge immediate testing and implementation of the drinking water rule. There is no reason for such a delay and water systems have known this rule would be adopted since 2017. 
  3. Require PFAS testing for transient noncommunity systems once every three years and require testing for all systems by June 2022.  For transient noncommunity systems, only those transient systems determined by the department to be at risk are required to conduct analysis. Transient noncommunity systems include several categories that often serve individuals for an extended period: motels, restaurants, churches, and farmworker housing. We urge the department to include transient noncommunity systems in the full monitoring requirement and require testing once every three years.
  4. When State Action Levels (SALs) are exceeded, it should be clear that mitigation is required to meet the SAL. The draft rule (WAC 246-290-320) requires notice to water system users when SALs are exceeded as well as continued monitoring and investigation of the cause of contamination. It also requires action as directed by the department. The rule should more clearly require that systems ensure the SALs are not exceeded. What other actions would DOH require other than meeting the action level? It should be clear to water systems that these levels are to be met.

Washington lags behind other states like New Jersey, Michigan, and New York that have already enacted statewide drinking standards. Meanwhile, PFAS problems continue to grow in Washington. These toxic chemicals persist in the environment and won’t go away without costly mitigation efforts.  

Read our full letter to the Department of Health.