The recently issued California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) monitoring orders are part of a statewide phased PFAS Investigation Plan to determine the occurrence and extent of PFAS in California. The required testing for PFAS included analysis for PFOA and PFOS. PFAS are present in many common items that we come in contact with on a regular basis and water is just one of many ways that humans can be exposed to these substances.
Frequently asked questions
Below are answers to common questions regarding perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Why are you testing for PFOA, PFOS, and PFAS now?
Which wells are being tested?
The following Water Systems and the number of sources (wells) that will be tested in the Orange County Water District service territory include the following. These wells will be tested on a quarterly basis. They were selected on the basis of proximity to either landfills, municipal airports, or past detection of PFAS in wells.
- City of Buena Park - 1 source
- Knotts Berry Farm - 1 source
- Liberty Park Water Association - 1 source
- Santa Ana Public Utilities - 1 source
- Serrano Water District - 1 source
- East Orange County Water District - 2 sources
- Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) - 2 sources
- City of Fullerton - 5 sources
- City of Orange - 6 sources
- City of Garden Grove - 7 sources
- Yorba Linda Water District - 11 sources
- Anaheim Public Utilities - 15 sources
How do PFOA and PFOS get into drinking water?
Due to the prolonged use of PFOA and PFOS in many common consumer products, the chemicals have been known to enter the water cycle through conventionally treated wastewater discharges from sewage treatment facilities, landfills and locations where the substances were used outdoors.
To date, OCWD has determined that neither water produced by its Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) project nor imported water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) are a source of PFAS to the groundwater basin.
In Orange County, testing of Santa Ana River surface water has detected PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS. These results can partially be explained by the presence of PFAS in upstream treated wastewater discharges from sewage treatment facilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. PFAS end up in sewage due to their widespread occurrence in a range of consumer products. While these are locations that can introduce PFOA and PFOS into the water system, it is important to remember that there are many other places where people can come in contact with these substances. OCWD has shared these findings with upstream water and sanitation agencies.
What are the health impacts of PFOA and PFOS?
Because these chemicals have been used in so many consumer products, most people have been exposed to them. While the production and use of these substances was phased out beginning in the early 2000s, the chemicals are highly persistent in the environment.
Animal toxicology and human epidemiological studies reported by EPA and Center for Disease Control indicate that exposure to these chemicals can cause increased cholesterol levels, a greater risk for thyroid disease and high blood pressure. The studies have also shown a decrease in response to vaccines, fertility rates in women, and infant birthweight.
How will I know if my water contains PFOA and/or PFOS?
Water agencies with monitoring results that indicate levels of PFOA and/or PFOS 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 recommends that agencies provide notifications to customers in the form of the annual Consumer Confidence Report required to be sent to each customer,, website postings or bill inserts; however, these customer notifications are not mandated.
What will happen if PFOA and/or PFOS is found in wells that supply my drinking water?
If PFOA and/or PFOS is detected during the testing and is above the Notification Level, a letter will be sent to the governing body for that jurisdiction to inform them of the results. If the results show PFOA and/or PFOS above the Response Level, the well will be taken out of service or the agency may develop a water blending program to reduce the amount of PFOA and/or PFOS in the water supply. OCWD and the Orange County water systems are working the California Division of Drinking Water to ensure water continues to be served that meets all drinking water regulations and standards.
What regulations are currently in place for PFOA/PFOS in drinking water?
In summer 2018, the California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) established Notification Levels and Response Levels for PFOA and PFOS. These Notification Levels are set at 14 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for PFOA and 13 ng/L for PFOS. A nanogram is also known as a “part-per-trillion” and one nanogram per liter is the equivalent of four grains of sugar dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. If testing shows levels higher than 14 ng/L for PFOA and 13 ng/L for PFOS, agencies will be required to notify the governing body for the areas where the water has been served within 30 days of receiving the verifying test results.
Notification Levels 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 state Notification Levels are based on the most sensitive known health endpoints for these compounds: lifetime cancer risk, liver toxicity, and immunotoxicity. An enforceable drinking water MCL can be promulgated by either the state or nationally by United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) through deliberate processes prescribed in state and federal law.
The DDW Response Level is 70 ng/L for both PFOA and PFOS. If the testing exceeds this level, DDW recommends the source be taken out of service.
Who regulates drinking water in California?
The California Division of Drinking Water and United States Environmental Protections Agency (U.S. EPA) set standards and regulate drinking water in California.
Why are limits different in other states?
Several states (MI, MN, NH, NJ, VT) have their own drinking water guidelines and standards for PFOA and PFOS. Each state has its own regulatory body that determines these standards.
How does OCWD make sure that our drinking water is safe?
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.
While OCWD and its producers provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the world, they know that their work is never done. OCWD is committed to ensuring that the community is knowledgeable and has the resources available to understand local water quality. To help achieve this, OCWD remains proactive in water quality investigation and ensures that all test results are publicly available. In addition, comprehensive water quality data files are provided annually to the cities and districts it serves.
How is the United States Environmental Protections Agency (US EPA) addressing PFAS, PFOA, and PFOS?
On May 19, 2016, the US EPA issued a new Health Advisory for lifetime exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water set at a combined 70 parts per trillion. Based on preliminary information from EPA, 63 water suppliers in the United States detected PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water supplies. Twenty-six of these water systems are located in California.
Health advisories provide information about contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to states agencies and other public health officials about health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.*
*Source: EPA Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS