PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used around the world since the 1940s for many industrial and consumer purposes including the coating of fabrics, nonstick cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam.
These chemicals can accumulate over time and have been found in both the environment and the human body. They do not break down easily in the environment or the human body and are sometimes called “forever chemicals”.
Of these chemicals, the most extensively produced and studied have been PFOA and PFOS.
How Do PFAS Enter the Environment?
How these chemicals get into groundwater is still being studied, but PFAS in drinking water usually comes from a nearby source such as a facility where it is produced, used or disposed.
Assessments of potential risks of PFAS in areas tributary to our drinking water supplies was conducted in 2019 in accordance with DPH guidance. Sites that were identified as potential PFAS generators have been prioritized for sanitary inspections by the company.
PFAS can also enter water sources from Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) used for firefighting at military bases and airports. None of the Connecticut Water sources were affected by the widely reported incidents at Bradley International Airport, and there were no military bases found in areas tributary to our water sources.
What are the current drinking water standards?
There are currently no state or federal drinking water quality standards (Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL) for any chemical in the PFAS family.
At this time, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and regulators in Connecticut and states across the country are working to develop appropriate standards for these chemicals in drinking water. Connecticut Water Company will be engaged with our industry colleagues and regulators as the process continues, to ensure we best meet the needs of our customers.
In 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a health advisory for PFOA and PFOS levels at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This target concentration is for either contaminant alone or for the sum of the two.
The EPA issued a PFAS Action Plan in February 2019 with a goal to identify EPA-led short-term actions, longer-term research, and potential regulatory approaches designed to reduce the risks associated with PFAS in the environment.
On June 15, 2022, EPA announced new health advisory levels for four PFAS compounds that set the health advisory levels to near zero and below the level that modern testing is able to detect the compounds.
In the absence of federal standards, several states have adopted their own standards.
You can read more about that here: https://www.epa.gov/pfas
PFAS in Connecticut
The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) set a Drinking Water Action Level in 2016 for PFAS that was the same as the EPA Health Advisory (70 ppt) at that time and included three additional PFAS (PFNA, PFHxS, PFHpA) to the group. The sum of this group of five PFAS was to be below the target concentration of 70 ppt. Any testing being done by Connecticut Water on our sources includes testing for all five PFAS compounds.
From 2013-2015, Connecticut public water supply systems that serve over 10,000 customers participated in the federal government’s testing program, (Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule or UCMR) for 6 PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA. None of the 29 large public water systems tested at 129 locations at utilities across Connecticut as part of the EPA UCMR rule had detectable levels of PFAS chemicals.
On June 15, 2022, DPH announced new drinking water action levels for four PFAS compounds.
According to DPH: Action Levels can be used as guidance by Local Health Departments and private well owners when evaluating the potability of well water. Action Levels are non-enforceable and are intended to be used as guidance by Local Health Departments and private well owners when evaluating the potability of well water. There are currently no enforceable federal drinking water standards for chemicals in the PFAS family. This action level update is a result of ongoing implementation of Human Health Recommendation 1.1.e. of Governor Ned Lamont’s Connecticut Interagency PFAS Task Force PFAS Action Plan.
PFAS test results are available in our Water Quality Reports, and the most current PFAS sampling data by water system can be viewed here.
Connecticut Water is in full compliance with Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards and the guidelines for risk assessment of all water sources and systems as well as all the monitoring and testing requirements under the Unregulated Contaminate Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to date.
In 2019, an extensive review of PFAS risk factors was completed to identify areas of land near our water sources whose uses might make PFAS more likely to be present. The company developed a plan that establishes the prioritization of sample collection from its water supply sources that were identified by the 2019 review as vulnerable.
The company voluntarily started testing our water systems for PFAS in late 2019. Surface water supplies, which provide for over 50% of our average daily water demand, were tested first and PFAS were not detected at any of those supply surfaces.
Further testing continues among Connecticut Water's 200 groundwater sources. A small number of those sources have contained detectable levels of PFAS. As those levels have been detected, any customer who may be served by that source has been notified by mail. All sources continue to meet water quality standards set by DPH and EPA.
Nearly everyone has low levels of PFOS and PFOA in their blood, likely from their widespread use in consumer products and food packaging.
PFAS can remain in the human body for a long time, and can build up over time. Because of this, even low levels in drinking water can be a health risk if exposure is long term, but having PFAS exposure or PFAS in your body does not mean you will necessarily have health problems now or in the future.
The advisory guidelines by the EPA and DPH are set based on daily exposure to the most vulnerable consumers. If you are a sensitive consumer, including pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants, you may choose to minimize your exposure by not drinking water that has found PFAS in water quality testing. Please be advised, however, that PFAS have been found in some bottled water. Ensure that your bottled water supply is PFAS-free or that you’re utilizing additional at home water treatment measures, as outlined below.
What Are Ways to Minimize Exposure?
If you are concerned about your exposure, you may want to use bottled water or tap water with non-detect PFAS levels for drinking, cooking, and making infant formula. Even though the risk is very low, you may also want to use water with non-detect PFAS levels for brushing your teeth, washing produce, and cleaning items like dentures or pacifiers. It is okay to bathe and shower in water that contains PFAS, as these compounds are not well absorbed through the skin. Boiling water does not lower PFAS levels and is not recommended as it may slightly increase the concentration of PFAS in the water.
You can also use an at home water treatment system that is certified to remove PFAS by an independent testing group such as National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Water Quality Association or the CSA group.
If you have specific health concerns related to PFAS exposure, you may want to consult your doctor or health professional.
Does my water meet all state and federal standards for drinking water?
Yes, water supplied by Connecticut Water is in compliance with all state and federal drinking water standards. If there are further requirements for PFAS testing or additional information becomes available on the health considerations or drinking water standards for PFAS, we will communicate to customers.
In addition to required testing conducted in 2013, beginning in late 2019, we voluntarily and proactively began testing for PFAS in our drinking water sources using a tiered approach risk assessment. PFAS have not been detected in any sample collected to date in our surface water supply sources and we will continue to provide updates on our findings for our groundwater supplies at https://www.ctwater.com/water-quality.
What Actions is Connecticut Water Taking to Address These Chemicals and Protect Consumers?
As EPA, DPH, and the Connecticut legislature develop further testing protocols, assessment guidelines, and standards, Connecticut Water will continue to meet any requirements for monitoring and testing of our systems.
More Information and Fact Sheets:
Connecticut Interagency PFAS Task Force
Connecticut Department of Public Health Drinking Water Section
Connecticut Department of Public Health PFAS Fact Sheet
United States Environmental Protection Agency