PFAS Challenges and Solutions for Water Utilities

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present unique challenges for water utilities tasked with ensuring safe drinking water.

  1. They are hard to detect:
  • PFAS consist of thousands of different compounds, each with distinct chemical properties. This complicates the detection process since different PFAS require different testing methods.
  • PFAS are often present in water at extremely low concentrations, requiring highly sensitive analytical techniques for accurate detection.
  1. They are hard to remove:
  • PFAS are resistant to conventional water treatment processes. This resistance necessitates the use of specialized technologies to remove these chemicals from drinking water effectively.
  • Once PFAS enter a water system, they can persist for years, continually posing risks to water quality. This persistence requires ongoing monitoring and treatment efforts, adding to the operational burden for utilities.

On April 10, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) establishing legally enforceable levels, called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), for six PFAS in drinking water. EPA also finalized health-based, non-enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) for these PFAS. Compliance with these regulations may require significant investment in your water utility.

There are various methods for removing PFAS in water systems. These include Activated Carbon Treatment, Ion Exchange Treatment, and High-Pressure Membrane Treatment such as reverse osmosis or nanofiltration. Implementing advanced PFAS treatment technologies can be expensive and smaller water utilities, in particular, may struggle with the financial burden of upgrading their systems.

However, Government funding and grants can provide crucial support for utilities needing to upgrade their infrastructure to handle PFAS. Programs like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) offer financial assistance to help utilities meet regulatory requirements.

Commonwealth Engineers understands that utilities must navigate various obstacles to ensure safe drinking water.  We can help your utility to invest in effective treatment methods and seek support through funding. Our collaborative efforts can overcome these challenges and protect public health. As regulatory frameworks evolve and scientific advancements continue, the path toward mitigating PFAS contamination in drinking water will become clearer and more achievable.

For more information, contact Brady Dryer, Environmental Compliance Manager.