Mr. Dadakis Goes to Washington

Orange County Water District Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources Jason Dadakis participated as an invited panelist at a two-day workshop in Washington, DC, titled “Understanding, Controlling, and Preventing Exposures to PFAS.” It was hosted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine through their Environmental Health Matters Initiative. The workshop covered topics including PFAS exposure pathways, treatment of PFAS contaminated media (e.g., water, soil, air), controlling and preventing PFAS exposures, and challenges/opportunities for progress.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are manmade and have been around since the 1940s. They appear in cleaning products and firefighting foams and are used as coatings to treat clothing, carpeting, packaging, and cookware. Their widespread use has led to widespread environmental contamination. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop explored opportunities for government, academia, businesses, and non-governmental organizations to advance their understanding of human exposure to PFAS and to reduce or prevent PFAS exposure.

The District is spearheading proactive efforts in Orange County to not only address the challenge of locally impacted wells, but also to encourage the state to use sound science as the basis for PFAS drinking water standards.

The state is planning to set new drinking water Response Levels (RLs) for two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, by the end of the year. Currently, the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) is considering new individual RLs of 10 parts per trillion (PPT) for PFOA and 40 ppt for PFOS. The basis for these changes is recommendations from the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). OEHHA developed its recommendations for an unprecedented cancer risk level for PFOA on data from a federal National Toxicology Program (NTP) study that has not been completed, published or peer reviewed.  While legally non-enforceable, the state recommends water exceeding a Response Level not be served to the public and beginning in January 2020 will require extensive public notification.

OCWD recently held a regional PFAS forum to review current and pending state regulations and recommendations. Dr. Lisa Corey, senior toxicologist for Intertox, Inc., was a panelist who examined OEHHA’s recommendations closely  and took questions from the audience.

Depending on what levels state or federal drinking water standards for PFAS are set, preliminary estimates of financial impacts range from $20 million to $850 million over the next 30 years for the Orange County region alone. That aside, the safety of 2.5 million people served by OCWD’s 19-member agencies is the top concern.

The District is highly invested in determining how to best remove PFAS, especially PFOA and PFOS, from the basin’s drinking water supplies. OCWD’s Philip L. Anthony Laboratory (Lab) was the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for PFAS in drinking water. OCWD has financed more than $1 million in equipment to support the Lab in performing this analysis and is proactively working with federal, state and local agencies to test, identify and monitor PFAS. OCWD has also moved forward with 3D water quality visualization of the basin to get a better understanding of the extent of PFAS impacts basin wide.

OCWD has begun the third round of testing for PFAS at locations within its service area that received monitoring orders from the state. The current monitoring orders require four quarters of testing, which will continue through March 2020. 

To assist local water retailers to ensure that their drinking water meets requirements for PFOA and PFOS established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Division of Drinking Water (DDW), OCWD’s board recently hired Carollo Engineers to review the PFAS treatment implementation needs for each affected Producer. The District previously engaged the engineering firm Jacobs to assist with a lab- and pilot-scale PFAS treatment assessment project.

OCWD is readying itself to take on operating challenges that could heavily impact it and its member agencies to ensure that the cleanest, safest water in the nation is served.