This month, the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) posted the first results of testing nearly 600 drinking water supply wells in the California. Perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), both “emerging contaminants” as classified by the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), were found. 

Scientists have called PFOA and PFOS “forever chemicals” because they accumulate in the human body. This family of chemicals, known as PFAS, are found in flame-retardant foams commonly used at airports, as well as in water-repellent coatings for outdoor apparel.

Fortunately, PFAS have not been detected in the source wells for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies.

One of those agencies is the West Basin Municipal Water District, a regional wholesaler that delivers water to several unincorporated areas in LA County along with 17 cities, including Inglewood and Carson.

The MWD’s overall planning strategy calls for management that balances imported water with local supplies. Nearly 45 percent of Southern California’s water supply is imported from Northern California via the State Water Project and from the Colorado River via the Colorado River Aqueduct. Local sources make up the difference.

The MWD statement on its website reads: “Metropolitan is supporting its member agencies as they assess whether PFOA and/or PFOS are present in their supplies and to what extent.” 

“Metropolitan stands prepared to handle any increased demands for its imported water that may result from the loss of any affected local supplies.”

Other water district managers in California have emphasized that having contaminated groundwater wells does not necessarily mean that residents are being exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS. Some utilities have treated the water to remove most of the chemicals, while others have started blending contaminated water with other sources to lower the chemical concentration. Sill others have closed wells or put them on emergency-use-only status.

Congress has introduced major provisions regarding PFAS. HR 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, passed in the House and was received in the Senate in September. S.190, the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Act of 2019, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the committee on foreign relations last January. 

“Source control is a key component of any exposure reduction program,” wrote Jeffrey Knightlinger, MWD general manager, in a July letter addressed to Congressional leaders. “While many companies are voluntarily phasing out certain PFAS compounds in the United States, PFAS compounds are still being manufactured outside of the country and continue to be imported to the United States.”

A state law that takes effect in January will require utilities to inform customers of PFAS found at any level. It will also force water systems to either shut down wells that test over the federal health advisory level or notify their customers of the contamination.

For more information, visit https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/pfas/.