Frequently asked questions
Below are answers to common questions regarding per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of thousands of chemicals that are used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, food packaging, cookware, and other materials to make them non-stick and/or resistant to water, oil, and stains. They are also used in a number of industrial processes and firefighting activities.
Two legacy long-chain PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), are no longer produced in the United States. Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. In 2006, eight major companies voluntarily agreed to phase out their global production of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals, although there are a limited number of ongoing uses. Scientists have found PFOA and PFOS in the blood of nearly all the people they tested in national monitoring surveys. Newer short-chain PFAS compounds have been introduced by the industry as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, such as perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).
PFAS have been detected in the Orange County Groundwater Basin, entering from various sources, including the Santa Ana River whose flows infiltrate into and recharge the basin. Chemical manufacturers are the original source of PFAS chemicals. Despite playing no role in releasing PFAS into the environment, cities and water agencies must find ways to remove it from their local water supplies.
OCWD monitors groundwater recharge supplies produced by its Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) project and purchased water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), and based on OCWD’s sampling, those supplies do not contain PFAS.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) Division of Drinking Water (DDW) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) set standards and regulate drinking water in California.
Federal PFAS Advisories
In June 2022, U.S. EPA (EPA) issued new final Health Advisories (HAs) for GenX and PFBS, and issued updated interim HAs for PFOA, and PFOS that replace those issued by EPA in 2016. HAs are not federal regulatory limits and are non-enforceable.
Summary of EPA HA values:
– Interim updated HA for PFOA = 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt)
– Interim updated HA for PFOS = 0.02 ppt
– Final HA for GenX chemicals = 10 ppt
– Final HA for PFBS = 2,000 ppt
*Note that 1 ppt is roughly equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized pools.
State PFAS Advisories
OCWD and its PFAS-impacted retailers comply with state advisory levels for PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, and PFHxS established by the State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW).
Current state advisory levels are:
– Notification Levels (NL): PFOA, 5.1 ppt; PFOS, 6.5 ppt; PFBS, 500 ppt; PFHxS, 3 ppt
– Response Levels (RL): PFOA, 10 ppt; PFOS, 40 ppt; PFBS, 5,000 ppt; PFHxS, 20 ppt
*Note: GenX has not been detected in the Basin; PFBS has been detected, but at levels far below all current state advisories and the new federal HA.
Notification Levels (NL)
The NL is the level at which water agencies are required to notify local elected officials and governing bodies of the presence of contaminants in local water supplies. NLs are precautionary health-based advisory levels established by DDW while further research and analysis are conducted by the state to determine the necessity of setting an enforceable drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL).
Response Levels (RL)
The RL is the level at which the state recommends the water not be served to the public without treatment or blending to reduce contaminants.
The state has issued draft Public Health Goals (PHGs) for PFOA and PFOS. Once the PHGs are finalized, DDW will use them as the basis for developing statewide enforceable drinking water regulations, a process which should take approximately two years.
The SWRCB’s DDW has issued advisory levels for PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, and PFHxS in drinking water supplies and continues to pursue advisory levels for five additional PFAS.
Several states have their own drinking water guidelines and standards for PFAS. Each state either has its own regulatory body that determines these standards or rely on the USEPA.
Water agencies with monitoring results that indicate PFAS above the DDW Notification Level will be required to notify the governing body for the areas where the water has been served (i.e. City Council or County Board of Supervisors). DDW also requires that agencies provide notifications of PFAS detections to customers in the form of the annual Consumer Confidence Report required to be sent to each customer, website postings or bill inserts. Residents can also contact their local retail water agency for PFAS monitoring results.
OCWD is internationally recognized as a leader in water quality testing. OCWD tests water from about 1,500 locations throughout the Orange County Groundwater Basin, taking more than 20,000 samples and conducting 400,000 analyses of these samples each year.
OCWD, cities and retail water agencies in Orange County take seriously the duty to provide reliable high-quality drinking water to residents throughout Orange County and will continue to meet all state and federal drinking water standards and regulations.
OCWD and the water retailers it serves provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. The District is committed to ensuring that the community is knowledgeable and has the resources available to understand local water quality. OCWD’s Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory was the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for PFAS in drinking water.
In addition to providing high quality supplies to retailers and ongoing monitoring of PFAS levels, OCWD does or has done the following:
- Implemented a PFAS treatment policy that enables constructing treatment facilities for impacted water agencies, including funding 100% of design and construction costs, with operation and maintenance costs shared 50/50 with the retail water agency.
- Invest in equipment to support lab analysis
- Obtain laboratory certification to test for more PFAS compounds
- Assist water retailers it serves in compliance with DDW testing and notification requirements
- Monitor to determine extent of compounds in the groundwater basin and in recharge water supplies
- Pilot test treatment techniques for removal of PFAS in groundwater
- Stay current with changing technology for both detection and treatment
- Be transparent and communicate regularly with stakeholders
- Work with the Regional Water Quality Control Board regulators and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority to identify sources of PFAS
Our commitment to addressing PFAS goes beyond the design and construction of treatment facilities. OCWD and 10 Orange County public water agencies filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers – 3M Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours, Inc., DuPont de Nemours and Company, Chemours Company, and Corteva, Inc. – for the manufacture and sale of PFAS that have contaminated groundwater, drinking water, and real property in Orange County. Through the lawsuit, we seek to protect ratepayers and ensure that the associated costs, including but not limited to treatment and replacement water, are borne by the companies that developed, manufactured, and profited by PFAS.
OCWD and the public water agencies filed their lawsuit on December 1, 2020 in the Orange County Superior Court, requesting a trial by jury. The case was since removed to federal court, and consolidated with many other similar suits in a Multi District Litigation in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for all pre-trial proceedings. A trial date has not been set.
The plaintiffs are represented by a consortium of firms with national expertise in PFAS litigation, including SL Environmental Law Group, PC; Robinson Calcagnie, Inc.; Kelley Drye & Warren LLP; Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, LLP; Douglas & London, P.C.; Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty, & Proctor, P.A.; and Kennedy & Madonna, LLP. These attorneys have combined decades of experience representing municipalities and other water providers throughout the country in efforts to recover the substantial costs of treating groundwater contamination from the corporations whose products caused the contamination.