Doesn't the government require utilities to test for PFAS?
Despite the serious health risks, many Wisconsin water utilities haven't conducted comprehensive PFAS testing of their drinking water systems.
There are thousands of different chemicals in the PFAS family. Wisconsin has developed drinking water enforcement standards for two of them—PFOS and PFOA. This is a positive development, but it's not enough. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has recommended safety standards for a total of 18 PFAS chemicals. Ask your water utility to test for all 18 of them.
WHAT IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DOING TO REGULATE PFAS?
There are not yet any enforceable federal standards for PFAS in drinking water, nor does the EPA currently require PFAS testing of drinking water. However, the EPA is in the process of developing a proposed federal standard for PFOA and PFOS, which the agency anticipates finalizing by the end of 2023.
Health Advisory Levels
The EPA recently announced updated health advisory levels for certain PFAS compounds. According to the EPA, the safe level for PFOA and PFOS—two of the most widely studied compounds—is near zero.
WHAT IS WISCONSIN DOING TO REGULATE PFAS?
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has developed enforcement standards for certain PFAS compounds in drinking water and surface water, but not for groundwater. The new standards are set to take effect later this summer. This is a positive development, but it is only a partial step toward protecting public health. Here's why:
Wisconsin's enforcement standards are much less protective than federal health advisory levels and should be revised to align more closely with federal health-based recommendations.
The new standards for drinking water and surface water do not apply to groundwater. That means the nearly one million Wisconsin households that obtain their drinking water from private wells are left unprotected.
According to the DNR, mandatory testing for water utilities will be phased in, with Wisconsin's largest communities being required to test as early as late 2022. In the meantime, all water utilities are encouraged to participate in the DNR's voluntary PFAS testing program. Given the known health risks associated with PFAS exposure, local municipalities should begin testing immediately to protect their constituents.
Federal funds are currently available to help communities pay for the cost of testing and remediation. If a community finds their drinking water supply is impacted by PFAS, the DNR and Department of Health Services will assist community leaders to leverage all resources available to protect the health of residents and address the contamination.