Coloradans need much more guidance from the EPA and the CDPHE on the forever chemicals that are polluting our drinking water, ubiquitous in everyday products and found at more contamination sites in Colorado than in any other state.
Most Coloradans vaguely understand now that PFAS – the acronym used for a broad group of toxic chemicals – are bad for your health, but how concerned should the hundreds of thousands of residents be who live in areas identified to be exceeding the EPA’s new safe drinking water limit on PFAS? What immediate actions do they need to take?
“There’s really no safe level of these chemicals,” Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, said in a Denver Post article last month.
The problem is that the chemicals build up in our bodies over time, experts say. So while a one-time exposure over the EPA’s new limit would be nothing to worry about, it’s the daily drinking water over the course of decades that can be harmful, especially for developing children and fetuses.
The Denver Post’s Conrad Swanson interviewed Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard, about his research which has shown PFAS can harm antibody responses, metabolism, and organ function. The chemicals also can increase cholesterol and obesity and lead to increased infections and hospitalizations.
The EPA’s new standards are a huge step. Previously, the EPA’s “safe” level for lifetime exposure to PFAS was 70 parts per trillion. In June, that was reduced to .004 parts per trillion for PFOA and .02 parts per trillion for PFOS. PFOA and PFOS are two types of PFAS.
“Almost everyone is going to exceed the new health advisory levels,” Birnbaum told The Post.
No one needs to panic, as those are lifetime exposure levels, but those with water providers who substantially exceed those levels should take action to protect themselves and their children in the long run.
For example, Thornton has taken the recommended, although not required, step of notifying its residents that its water supply exceeds the new EPA threshold by more than 1,000 times. Other utilities with substantial PFAS contamination should follow suit. Thornton has also, laudably, taken the immediate step of purchasing water from nearby providers to dilute the contamination.
Addressing PFAS contamination will probably take a multi-pronged approach between federal, state, local, and individual efforts to treat water.
For about $100 to $150, the Los Angeles Times reports that a special filter – most traditional pitcher and faucet filters won’t do the job – filled by the sink or fridge and then docked into a special port on the counter can effectively treat the water.
For closer to $1,000, special filters that attach below a sink or to pipes use reverse osmosis to remove PFAS and other contaminants and are considered the best filtration systems, the LA Times reports.
Waiting years for the EPA to create requirements around the new health advisory threshold or for federal funding to assist with water treatment is not an option. Colorado’s water utilities must begin taking action, especially in Arapahoe County, Aurora, Brighton, Crowley County, Sterling, Englewood, Frisco and Lafayette, where higher levels of PFAS have been detected.
Residents can use The Denver Post’s new search tool to see what PFAS levels have been detected in their home drinking water sources and make decisions for themselves about what they can afford to do while they wait for action by their water provider.
Finally, all of this will not matter if the EPA does not prevent future and new water contamination by PFAS. The use of PFAS — and chemicals that break down into PFAS — in industrial, manufacturing, firefighting and other uses must be curtailed and regulated.