Oregon drinking water systems mostly free from 'forever chemicals' contamination

Date:
July 26, 2022
Oregon drinking water systems mostly free from 'forever chemicals' contamination

Oregon has just finished testing 140 drinking water systems across the state for PFAS, or per- and poly-fluorinated substances.The results: Only five small systems had detectable levels of PFAS, and none exceeded the state’s health advisory level. None of those was in Central Oregon.PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals,” meaning they don’t break down in the environment or human body, and can accumulate over time.Officials tested drinking water sources that were close to sites that either had PFAS use or PFAS contamination.“We wanted to identify sources at highest risk and sample those,” said Kari Salis, a manager in the Oregon Health Authority’s Drinking Water Services program.PFAS are a family of chemicals used since the 1940s for their heat-, moisture-, grease- and stain-resistance, as well as nonstick, qualities.They’re found in everyday items like nonstick pans, waterproof outerwear, food packaging and firefighting foam.Growing evidence points to health effects including increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, small decreases in infant birth weights, decreased vaccine response in children, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s laboratory tested drinking water samples for 25 PFAS compounds, in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority.The health authority has established drinking water health advisory levels for four PFAS compounds most commonly found in people. They are PFOS, PFOA, PFNA and PFHxS.The advisory level is exceeded when the sum of the four compounds combined is over 30 parts per trillion.Health advisory levels are not regulatory. Instead, they provide information on health risks so health officials can take steps to protect consumers.About a half dozen sites were tested in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. The compounds were not detected at the minimum reporting level in any of them.Four sites remain to be tested in the state, said Harry Esteve, communications manager for DEQ. Those systems only operate during summer, so couldn’t be tested earlier.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified about 120,000 locations around the country, including nearly 600 in Oregon, where people may be exposed to PFAS.In Oregon, as well as nationwide, the sites are associated with landfills and waste incinerators, airports, military sites and fire-training facilities. Oregon industries on the list include manufacturing of cement, chemicals and cleaning products, electronics, furniture and carpets, glass products, metal machinery, paints, petroleum and plastics, as well as metal coating, printing and paper mills.Although PFAS can be found in air and soil, the main route for exposure in Oregon is from potential drinking water contamination.The state’s recent testing program was funded by an EPA grant, and was free to drinking water systems.The EPA previously conducted limited testing of drinking water systems and did not detect PFAS contamination in Oregon. It tested a sample of water systems across the country for six PFAS compounds between 2013 and 2015.In Oregon, the EPA tested a total of 65 systems. It tested major drinking water systems serving populations over 10,000 and some smaller systems, for a total of 65 systems.The federal government is in the process of setting some regulations for PFAS in drinking water.Last month, the Biden administration announced new steps to protect drinking water from PFAS contamination, as well as allocating $5 billion toward addressing PFAS and other contamination in drinking water.Oregon will get a share of that money, which it will use to offer grants to drinking water systems with PFAS detections. Salis said she expects a first round of grants will be offered this fall.PFAS can be removed through treatment with activated carbon, ion exchange or high-pressure membranes.-Tracy Loew Salem

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