PFOA and Municipal Water Supplies

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PFOA and Municipal Water Supplies

Water quality. Contamination. These are buzz words that make national headlines. For example, Flint, MI for their ongoing issues with lead in the municipal water supply. Closer to home it is not a long-standing infrastructure issue, but a single event that has set in motion many causes for concern with our water quality.

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The ITC chemical storage facility fire that happened in March released numerous compounds into the surrounding waters. While the acutely toxic chemicals benzene and xylene received most of the press, it is coming to light that slower acting compounds also contaminated the water. 

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is part of a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS, for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. Its most notable use was in the non-stick coating Teflon but it has since been removed when it became known as a probable human carcinogen.

PFOA is still used in industrial applications however. During efforts to contain the massive ITC inferno, fire fighters used a chemically engineered foam to help smother the flames and contain the spread of the fire. The types of foams used for such applications frequently contain PFOA and because the fire happened along a bayou, it was easy for it to enter the water supply.

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Scientists throughout the country have brought to light that PFAS are being found at unsafe levels in drinking water supplies. These chemicals do not break down easily in the environment and do not dissipate from the human body quickly. PFOA has been linked to several forms of cancer, liver disease, fertility problems in women, and birth defects. The EPA has recently established health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion while they evaluate PFOA as a drinking water contaminant and determine appropriate guidelines.

Information about levels in local municipal water supplies is publicly available and can be found by contacting your local supplier and asking for a Consumer Confidence Report.

Latitudes Environmental is a full-service consulting firm, having knowledge and understanding of air, water and waste regulations for the industrial sector.