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.
Over the past several years, the science on PFAS and its impacts to the environment and public health have prompted regulatory actions. In 2016, the USEPA established a 70 part per trillion (ppt) combined Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS. In 2021, the USEPA made a formal regulatory determination to begin the process of establishing federal enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.
Ahead of establishing state enforceable drinking water standards, the SWRCB’s DDW has issued advisory levels for PFOA, PFOS, and PFBS in drinking water supplies and continues to pursue advisory levels for six additional PFAS.
The Notification Levels (NL) are as follows: PFOA, 5.1 ppt; PFOS, 6.5 ppt; PFBS, 500 ppt. 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).
The Response Levels (RL) are as follows: PFOA, 10 ppt; PFOS, 40 ppt; PFBS, 5,000 ppt. 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.
In July 2021, the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) publicly released its draft document for public review describing proposed Public Health Goals (PHGs) for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. PHGs are public health-based, non-regulatory values set at concentrations not anticipated to produce adverse health effects. It is anticipated to take approximately one year for final PHGs to be established. Subsequently, DDW will use the PHGs as the starting point for developing enforceable MCLs. The state is not currently pursuing a PHG or MCL for PFBS based on limited occurrence in statewide testing at health-relevant concentrations.
The SWRCB’s DDW has issued advisory levels for PFOA, PFOS, and PFBS in drinking water supplies and continues to pursue advisory levels for six 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