PFAS Awareness

Owensboro Municipal Utilities is committed to providing safe and reliable water to our customer-owners and complying with all state, local and federal regulations. In addition, OMU adheres to all laboratory approved testing procedures.

In our recent EPA Unregulated Contaminants Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) testing, OMU had no detects for PFAS.

OMU is currently studying the best and most feasible treatment alternatives to meet the EPA’s proposed limit of 4.0 parts per trillion.

What are PFAS?

PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

  • PFAS are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Because of this unique trait, these compounds are also known as forever chemicals.
  • PFAS are not created as part of the water treatment process. Water systems are only receivers of PFAS.
  • Over the last 70 years, these compounds have been widely used around the world in the manufacturing of clothing, furniture fabrics, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, paints, inks, cosmetics, paper packaging for food and other materials. They are also used for firefighting and industrial processes.Although there are thousands of PFAS compounds, the EPA has prioritized research on a small number of these compounds that may have health effects at very low concentrations.
  • Because of their widespread use and persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world, a variety of food products and in the natural environment.
  • PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and the globe.
  • Scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects.
  • The EPA states that most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased-out by the mid-2000s. However, there are over 6,000 variations of PFAS many of which are still used today and some of which will be regulated as part of the proposed rule.

What is the EPA’s Health Advisory regarding PFAS?

Recently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new Interim Health Advisory Levels for PFOA at 0.004 parts per trillion and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. These are microscopic levels, trace amounts. For perspective, 1 part per trillion is equal to 1 drop in 500,000 barrels of water. These new health advisories are also below current reliable detection abilities of scientific equipment. Scientists can currently detect PFAS compounds at 2 parts per trillion.

While this health advisory is not a regulation, it does provide interim guidance as the EPA develops a more formal regulation. The health advisory level is set at the minimum concentration of a compound which may present health risks to an individual over a lifetime of exposure.  Because there is uncertainty of the health effects associated with long-term exposure to compounds, EPA sets lower health advisories. As mentioned, sometimes, the advisory is lower than current analytical methods can detect.

What are the new EPA Health Advisory levels?

EPA first issued a health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS (individually or combined) in 2016 at 70 parts per trillion. Because of further research and as EPA determines its regulatory approach, it has created a lower health advisory of 0.004 ppt. These new health advisories for PFOA and PFOS represent minute concentrations.  For example, one part per trillion (1 ppt) is equal to approximately one grain of sand in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

How does this affect our community and how is OMU addressing this advisory?

As always, OMU is committed to meeting all drinking water regulatory requirements and addressing any health advisory concerns. Safe drinking water is our foremost priority. Our community’s water comes from an underground aquifer and is therefore protected from many contaminants. We are, therefore, not subject to some of the risks associated from the use of surface water such as rivers and reservoirs.

We will continue to monitor the EPA and state recommendations, comply with any new requirements, and coordinate with these agencies regarding ongoing research and rule-making developments.

We also work to protect our ground water source through our Wellhead Protection Program, which includes ways that you can help protect the aquifer.

If this health advisory becomes a regulatory requirement, what will this mean for OMU and its customers?

At this point, it is a health advisory and until we know more, it is difficult to speculate regarding the measures necessary to address any potential requirements.

Since the EPA has not developed regulations for PFAS in drinking water as yet, it is difficult to determine potential treatment options. In addition, there is no currently available approved testing technology which can detect PFAS at the health advisory level identified by the EPA. The methods for treatment of PFAS in drinking water are new and expensive and would therefore be a significant cost to OMU and our customer-owners if they are required to be installed.

How is PFAS testing conducted?

Testing for PFAS must be done in a careful and precise manner. OMU complies with all testing standards. However, levels contained in the health advisory are much lower than can be detected by current EPA-approved laboratory analytical methods. 

Where can I learn more about PFAS?

US Environmental Protection Agency

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention