What managers can do to combat PFAS in water

Not surprisingly, PFAS are found in drinking water at levels high enough to potentially pose health risks. October 12, 2022



By Dave Lubach, Editor-in-Chief

Facility managers have probably heard of the presence of PFAS in drinking water, including many other products that consumers use daily.

But what can managers do about PFAs to ensure their building occupants are drinking safe water? According to an expert in the matter, nothing that can really impact the quality of the water flowing through their facilities.

“PFAS have very attractive physicochemical properties for commercial uses,” says Maile Lono-Batura, director of sustainable biosolids programs at the Water Environment Federation. “They came onto the scene over 40 years ago. They appeared because it was a somewhat indestructible chemical. But it turns out they can also be used in consumer products.

PFAS – short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or “eternal chemicals” – are used to make items such as non-stick pans and fire-fighting foams. As attendees at the recent Water Council summit in Milwaukee learned, they are also included in the contents of fast food wrappers and also used to make atomic bombs.

It is therefore not surprising that PFAS are found in drinking water at levels high enough to potentially pose health risks. One of the Summit’s presenters on the subject said that 99% of every person in the United States has PFAS in their blood. The chemical may be responsible for health issues such as high cholesterol and liver cancer, among other conditions.

As the years pass and scientists learn more about the chemical, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lowered the chemical’s safety threshold in drinking water. In 2009, the EPA safety threshold was 70 parts per trillion for two PFAS. In June, the EPA lowered the health advisory to 0.004 parts per trillion for some components and 0.02 parts per trillion for others.

To put this number in another perspective, 0.004 parts per trillion equals 1 cent in $1 billion.

Water treatment facilities ensure drinking water remains safe, reminiscent of recent public water crises in Jackson, Mississippi, and Flint, Michigan.

But it is an expensive business. One speaker said water utilities could cost up to $1 million a week to test and treat chemicals entering water. At this price, it is almost impossible for individual institutional and commercial installations to test themselves.

Companies are now developing tests and processes to help better measure the amount of PFAS in water. While it may seem like managers are handcuffed on how to fix the problem, there is a way for them to try and keep their occupants safe.

“Eliminate and ask to phase out PFAS products in their institutions,” says Lono-Batura. “Don’t accept certain catering clothes, things like that. These are practical things that institutions can use. It’s a worldwide problem, but at least it gives some sort of example of what people can do by limiting usage.

Dave Lubach is the editor of Facilities Market.

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