What are PFAS?
PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) are manmade synthetic chemical compounds and exist in industrial and consumer products. The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued Health Advisory Levels for these substances for several years.
GenX Chemicals (PFAS Compound)
The GenX term is used by US EPA to describe compounds that have “replaced” PFOS and PFOA. They have similar properties. These compounds are “eliminated from the human body” more quickly than PFOA and PFOS, but the concern is how they impact the liver function.
How are PFAS containments introduced into the environment?
PFAS contaminants are not natural in the environment, but test results reveal detectable levels in groundwater tables, rivers, and lakes in Wisconsin. Research and studies indicate that firefighting foams containing levels of PFAS used during firefighting exercises have migrated into ground water tables. Other contributors of PFAS are industry release into surface waters, landfills, wastewater effluents, wax paper, fast food containers, and cosmetics.
Sites with Reported PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin:
Can PFAS be removed?
PFAS containments do not readily breakdown in the environment and can be difficult to remove from drinking water sources. Currently, ground water systems are the target for testing and surface water systems are under review. The US Environmental Protection Agency advises that granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment is successful in removing PFAS containments in a water system’s treatment facility, but also point-of-use filters installed in your home have been successful.
Additional information on home filtration:
What are the drinking water regulations and/or standards for PFAS?
In June 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency released new information on interim lifetime health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS and final health advisory levels for GenX chemicals and PFBS. The US EPA also issued minimum reporting limits for PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS.
US EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Levels:
Interim(draft)- PFOA is 0.004 parts per trillion and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS.
Final- GenX is 10 parts per trillion and 2,000 parts per trillion for PFBS.
US EPA Minimum Reporting Limits:
PFOA is 4 parts per trillion GenX is 5 parts per trillion
PFOS is 4 parts per trillion PFBS is 3 parts per trillion
Wisconsin Department of Health Services continues to review and research the health effects. WDHS has recommended to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources a drinking water regulatory standard at 20 parts per trillion in waters classified as public water supplies under ch. NR 104. However, these standards are subject to change based on the new health advisory levels presented by the EPA.
More information regarding Wisconsin Administrative Code, ch. NR 105 Rule and timeline:
What are US EPA drinking water health advisories?
The US Environmental Protection Agency defines drinking water health advisories as “providing information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. The EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and nonregulatory and provide technical information to drinking water system operators, as well as federal, state, Tribal, and local officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination.
Additional US EPA health advisory information:
Has Sheboygan Water Utility tested its drinking water for PFAS?
Yes, the Sheboygan Water Utility tested its drinking water for (6) PFAS/PFOS contaminants in 2014 and (18) PFAS/PFOS contaminants in 2021. During 2021 testing, 17 of 18 contaminants were not detectable.
The Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid compound (PFOS) was found to be detectable at a low-level result of 2.3 parts per trillion.
Will the Sheboygan Water Utility conduct additional PFAS/PFOS testing?
Yes, the utility will participate in additional PFAS/PFOS testing referred to as the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCRM5). The monitoring program is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency via Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. UCMR5 testing is scheduled to begin between 2023 and 2025.
Additional information from State Agencies:
Wisconsin Department of Health Service
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources