Emerging Contaminants

A message to Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority (BJWSA) customers about Per and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS) and "forever chemicals"


Background

Per and poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are chemicals widely used in a variety of consumer products to resist stains, water, or heat: non-stick coatings, waterproof garments, stain resistant carpet and upholstery and firefighting foams. There are thousands of different PFAS. They are called forever chemicals because of their longevity, many uses, and resistance to breaking down. 

PFAS can enter the environment from multiple sources and because they break down slowly, concentrations of PFAS can accumulate over time. PFAS can enter the water cycle in large quantities through legacy contamination of wells or rivers from chemical plants where PFAS are or were manufactured or from military facilities and airports that used firefighting foam. 

Image of PFAS materialsThe Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. EPA estimates that drinking water represents 20 percent of Americans exposure to PFAS chemicals with 80 percent of exposure coming from food and food packaging, cookware, cosmetics and other sources.

PFAS chemicals are measured in nanograms per liter (ng/L) or parts per trillion. As detection methods have improved, the minimum reporting level has decreased.  

PFAS and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

In March 2023, the U.S. EPA announced a proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4 ng/L for PFOA and for PFOS in drinking water. An MCL is a legally enforceable level. PFOA and PFOS can be reliably measured at 4 ng/L or 4 parts per trillion. EPA also set an enforceable limit for the combination of PFNA, PFHXs, PFBS and GenX called a Hazard Index.

These six PFAS compounds are included in the proposed MCL because they are the most studied of the PFAS compounds. These proposed MCLs for PFAS represent chronic, or long-term health hazards and assume that a person drinks 2.5 liters of impacted water every day for 70 years.

The PFAS MCLs are proposed and expected to be finalized this year (2024).  Once EPA finalizes the MCL, they will also provide a timeline (three years has been proposed) for water systems to modify or add treatment processes in order to comply with the final MCL.

Image of PFAS sources in the environment

Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority PFAS Levels

Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority (BJWSA) is taking tests and collecting data to determine baseline levels of forever chemicals in both our source water and the water leaving our treatment plants, and has been doing so for many years. Our initial test results indicate that our levels are well below average results from South Carolina rivers and lakes based on S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's data.  

In 2023, BJWSA started regular monthly testing. This additional data will help us better understand the PFAS levels in our source water. BJWSA will likely have to add another treatment process at our two water treatment plants to remove PFAS to the levels in the current EPA proposal.

It is important to know that BJWSA is committed to assuring that our water will meet all state and federal guidelines and will make any adjustments necessary to reduce PFAS levels. 


Household sink faucet dripping water

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