Testing of the state’s drinking water system has detected PFAS chemicals in the treated drinking water of at least two communities in Indiana, according to limited preliminary results.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management found PFAS chemicals in the treated and untreated water of the Charlestown water supply system of Indiana American Water in Clark and Morgan County County Rural Water Corp.
PFAS chemicals have also been detected in raw water at Hartford City Water Works in Blackford County and Aurora Utilities in Dearborn County.
The results are the first published by IDEM during the first phase of its PFAS community water system sampling project. The first phase tested community water supply systems that serve between 3,300 and 10,000 people for 18 PFAS chemicals.
The results do not indicate an immediate health risk to members of the community where PFAS was found, but long-term exposure could lead to negative health effects.
PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940s to make industrial products resistant to water, oil, grease and stains. The products are mainly known by their brand names, like Teflon, Gore-Tex, Scotchgard and many more.
The chemicals have been called “forever chemicals” because of their persistence, which means they do not break down and instead accumulate in the human body and the environment. PFAS chemicals were found in the blood of 97% of Americans.
PFAS chemicals have been bound to a range of health problems, including an increased risk of developing kidney and testicular cancer, increased blood cholesterol, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, and decreased vaccine response in children.
The agency said none of the community water supply systems performed better than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s non-binding Lifetime Health Advisories for PFOS and PFOA, a suggested limit for the two chemicals that is one of the only existing federal regulations on PFAS.
PFOS and PFOA are just two of the thousands of PFAS chemicals. Other PFAS chemicals are largely unregulated in Indiana. The federal government only requires companies to report a few dozen PFAS chemicals, leaving the public in the dark about chemicals that could be produced or used nearby.
Through some estimates, up to 200 million people in the United States could receive contaminated tap water with at least low levels of PFAS.
PFAS chemicals have been found to travel from industrial facilities to groundwater and eventually to drinking water downstream.
A study in North Carolina found that emissions to air and water of PFAS chemicals from a Chemours facility were entering groundwater near the facility and in five tributaries of the Cape Fear River. PFAS made its way to the river, impacting the downstream drinking water supply and fish living in the river.
The communities in Indiana where PFAS chemicals have been detected are all downstream of potential industrial sources of PFAS chemical pollution.
Indiana’s Charlestown Water System American Water and Aurora Utilities are located near the Ohio River, long known as a dumping ground for unregulated PFAS chemicals from upstream industrial sources.
IDEM has detected PFHxA, a PFAS chemical used on food packaging and household products, and PFOA, a PFAS chemical used to make Teflon and other products, in the water supply system of Charlestown.
IDEM has detected another PFAS chemical similar to PFOA, called PFNA, in the raw water used by Aurora Utilities.
The film “Dark Waters” with Mark Ruffalo recently presented the story of lawyer Rob Bilott’s struggle to connect a series of health issues around a production facility at DuPont de Nemours, Inc. in Parkersburg, Virginia. -Western woman who was using PFOA, also known as C8, for health issues in the surrounding community.
Other potential upstream sources of PFAS include the INEOS USA LLC chemical manufacturing plant in Addyston, Ohio, which produces PFAS chemicals and polymers, and similar facilities along the Ohio River.
Indiana American Water, which purchased the Charlestown water supply system in 2019, told the Indiana Environmental Reporter that it has invested more than $ 4 million in the aging water system and has begun construction of a new $ 16 million water treatment facility designed to allow for the addition of a PFAS Removal Process in the future. The company said the facility is expected to be completed and commissioned in mid-2022.
“Indiana American Water voluntarily sampled our raw water and our finished water to better understand certain occurrences of PFAS levels. Continuing testing also allows Indiana American Water to be better prepared when the US EPA or state environmental regulators develop a drinking water standard for PFAS for which we have US EPA approved test methods. Joe Loughmiller, director of external affairs for Indiana American Water, said in an email. .
“PFAS contamination is one of the fastest growing areas in drinking water. We have invested in our own independent research and engaged with other experts in the field to understand the occurrence of PFAS in the environment, ”he said. “We are also actively evaluating treatment technologies that can effectively remove PFAS from drinking water, as we believe investment in research is critically important to solving this problem. “
PFAS contamination also affects water supply systems along other rivers.
IDEM found evidence of PFBS, a PFAS chemical used in water and stain resistant coatings, and of PFHxA at the Morgan County Rural Water Corp.
Morgan County Rural Water Corp. pumps groundwater from its wellfield in Morgan County fed by the White River. PFAS pollution passing from the river to groundwater could come from several industrial chemicals, plastics and petroleum manufacturers or from hazardous waste facilities in Indianapolis.
The Environment Working Group in 2020 compiled a list of suspected PFAS users, finding 14 Indianapolis facilities suspected of using PFAS in Indianapolis, including chemical, metal and cosmetic manufacturers. All of them lie along the White River or the rivers that feed into it, potentially allowing the transport of PFAS chemicals downstream.
IDEM said it detected PFOS in the Hartford City Water Works system, a PFAS chemical that could come from sources a short distance away.
The Hartford City Water Plant is located along Little Lick Creek. Upstream of the water plant are at least two potential sources of PFAS, the Windmill of New-Indy Hartford City and the City of Hartford 3M Plant.
IDEM did not say when it will release preliminary results for the remaining systems tested in the first phase of testing or when it will finalize the first batch of results.
The agency said it had started taking samples from water supply systems in the second phase of testing, those serving fewer than 3,300 people.
At the federal level, the EPA has begun the process of adding four chemicals, PFAS, PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, and GenX, to the list of hazardous constituents under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The addition would give the EPA the power to require an investigation and cleanup for these four chemicals.
The United States House of Representatives in August passed the PFAS Action Law of 2021, a bill that would require the EPA, among other things, to designate certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund Act.
This designation would allow the EPA to clean up areas polluted with PFAS chemicals as part of the Superfund program.
The bill is currently before the United States Senate.