COLUMBUS —Following a call from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to prepare a plan to address potential threats to drinking water systems, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and Ohio Department of Health (ODH) this month released a statewide action plan to analyze the prevalence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Ohio’s drinking water.
PFAS are manmade chemicals that are used in products such as carpeting, upholstery, cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam. PFAS contamination from manufacturing operations and firefighting activities can migrate through soil, posing potential contamination threats to surface and ground waters. Although the health impacts of exposure to PFAS chemicals are not fully known, some studies have shown that several chemicals within the PFAS family could negatively impact health.
“We must fully evaluate the prevalence of PFAS in Ohio’s drinking water to protect public health and the state’s natural resources,” said Governor DeWine. “This plan is the first step in learning if the chemicals have a widespread presence.”
Under the plan, Ohio EPA will coordinate testing for close to 1,500 public water systems, including those that serve communities, schools, daycares and mobile home parks. Together, these public water systems supply water for about 90 percent of Ohio’s population.
When PFAS have been detected in a public water system, ODH will work through local health departments to give private water system owners information about PFAS, how to get their water tested, how to reduce exposure risks, and point-of-use treatment options like special water filters. ODH will coordinate with Ohio EPA and other stakeholders to identify potential resources available to assist private water system owners with sampling and analysis for PFAS, and installation and maintenance of water treatment systems.
There are currently no national drinking water standards for PFAS compounds. The establishment of national drinking water standards, called Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCLs, is under consideration by United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). In 2016, U.S. EPA set Health Advisory Levels (HALs) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for two of the most studied PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. Ohio’s action plan includes the use of these HALs for PFOA and PFOS and establishes action levels for four additional chemicals in the PFAS family, including GenX, PFBS, PFHxS, and PFNA.
“This statewide action plan will provide a pathway for ODH and Ohio EPA to work together and in partnership with key stakeholders to more fully evaluate the risks of PFAS and assist our communities in addressing these risks,” said Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson.
“The science is still evolving regarding PFAS chemicals, but we know that certain people like unborn babies, infants and children are at higher risk for negative health effects if exposed to them,” said ODH Director Amy Acton, MD, MPH. “ODH and Ohio EPA look forward to working with public and private water systems and local health departments to protect the health of all Ohioans.”
Public system water sampling is expected to be complete by the end of 2020. Ohio has developed a website for more information at http://pfas.ohio.gov.