News Feature | June 28, 2022

Drinking Water, Wastewater Treatment Systems Fear Federal PFAS Limits Will Create Cost Issues

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Though advocates have been pressuring federal regulators to impose stronger limits on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and the environment, recent efforts to do so are raising questions about who will pay for the costs.

As consumption of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” through drinking water has been tied to significant adverse health effects, the Biden administration has been attempting to crack down on their presence, recently propelling the U.S. EPA to announce the first-ever rules limiting PFAS in wastewater discharge and set a deadline for drinking water regulations for PFAS.

Recently, the agency lowered the health advisories for two prominent PFAS, known as PFOA and PFOS, recommending that only the most minute levels of the compounds would be acceptable in drinking water.

“The new interim advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are almost inconceivably small,” per Circle Of Blue. “So small, in fact, that laboratory methods cannot detect the chemicals in drinking water at these levels.”

Any final standards decided upon by the EPA would ultimately have to be enforced by drinking water and wastewater treatment operations, which have found that removing these pervasive chemicals from influent can be challenging and costly.

“While the ultimate cost of compliance is still unknown, Tracy Mehan, executive director of government affairs for the American Water Works Association, estimated it will ultimately dwarf the cost of replacing lead service lines,” Roll Call reported. “‘Sometimes technology costs do drop, as they come online and get perfected and you get scale, but the costs are going to be significant,’ said Mehan.”

In North Carolina, for instance, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has spent more than $40 million to build a new facility to filter out PFAS from local source water and expects to spend some $5 million every year to operate the facility, according to Roll Call. While utilities like Cape Fear’s ultimately hope to hold PFAS polluters responsible for the expenses, the treatment costs currently fall on them.

Although it’s clear that the national attention on PFAS will soon bring stricter federal regulations to drinking water and wastewater treatment operations, questions remain about their enforcement and costs. Whatever the answers, consumers should soon be better protected from forever chemicals. To read more about the expenses incurred by drinking water and wastewater utilities, visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.