State Water Board Releases Guidelines for PFOA and PFOS in Drinking Water

The State Water Resources Control Board released on Friday new guidelines for testing and reporting on PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. The new guidelines will allow local water agencies procedures to follow in detecting and reporting the presence of contaminants once used in firefighting foams as well as grease and stain-resistant coatings for consumer products.

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) are part of a family of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances. PFOA has been manufactured since the 1940s in industrial quantities and PFOS since 1949. PFOA and PFOS were routinely used in grease-proof coatings for food packaging; stain-resistant coatings for carpets, clothing and furniture; and as an ingredient in coatings for non-stick cookware (i.e. Teflon). In addition, these compounds have also been used in fire-retarding foams and various industrial processes.

In May 2000, a phaseout of the production of PFOA products began. Similarly, the 3M Company, the primary manufacturer of PFOS, began a production phase-out in 2002 after concerns were expressed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Eight other companies agreed to phase out the manufacturing of the chemical by 2015. However, PFOS and PFOS-related chemicals are currently produced in China.

In response to the State Water Board’s new drinking water guidelines, the board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW) set interim Notification Levels of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. Exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels is associated with adverse health effects that include cancer and developmental harm to fetuses.

The notification guidelines do not require water agencies to test their water for these contaminants, although most California water systems serving more than 10,000 people already have. However, if testing levels exceed the guidelines, then water agencies are required to report the results to their governing boards and to the State Water Board. Water agencies are also urged but not required to report this information to their customers.

Consistent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level established in 2016 DDW is also establishing an interim Response Level of 70 ppt for the total combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS as part of the new guidelines. If the combined level is above 70 ppt DDW recommends that the water agency remove the water source from service. More than 450 California public water systems have tested for PFOA and PFOS. Eight of those systems reported exceedances of the 70 ppt level for either PFOA, PFOS or both combined. These systems have either have taken the water source out of service or taken steps to treat their water to a level below the health advisory.

The establishment of a notification level is frequently an initial step in the process of adopting a formal state regulatory standard — the Maximum Contaminant Level. Data collected as a result of the new guidelines, reflecting the extent and levels of contamination, will inform DDW’s decision about whether to adopt a regulatory standard for PFOA and PFOS.

The new guidelines are based on the most health protective levels set by other states and follow a recommendation by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The notification levels are being adopted on an interim basis while OEHHA conducts additional analyses and develops a final recommendation later this year.

For additional information on PFOA and PFOS and what the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water is doing in tracking voluntary monitoring and reporting by public water systems, go to:

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