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North Little Rock Wastewater

EPA Releases Standards for PFAS in Drinking Water

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s radar for a few years. They released a PFAS Strategic Roadmap in the fall of 2021 detailing their plan for addressing the man-made pollutant.

PFAS is a class of chemicals that has been used in industry since the 1940s to create water-, oil-, and heat-resistant products such as rain jackets, Styrofoam, and firefighting foam. PFAS have significant drawbacks, though. One is how slowly they break down, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals”. As we continue to use, release, and dispose of PFAS, they build up in the environment. This pairs poorly with another drawback: their adverse health effects, including cancer as well as impacts on the liver, the heart, and child development.

After years of research, the EPA released the first enforceable limits on PFAS this month. The limits target six specific PFAS — PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA individually and PFBS, PFNA, PFHxS, and HFPO-DA in combinations — in drinking water. Water utilities have three years to comply with the new PFAS testing requirements and an additional two years to implement PFAS removal if the concentrations are too high. Nearly $1 billion in federal funding is available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help utilities and private well owners test for and address PFAS contamination. Another $9 billion is available to help with emerging contaminants including PFAS, and $12 billion is available for drinking water improvements in general.

Regulating PFAS in drinking water is only the beginning of efforts to protect residents from the pollutants. The EPA is working on stricter industrial testing and reporting requirements, stricter limitations on releasing PFAS into the environment, and a robust remediation program to clean up areas with PFAS contamination. They are also investigating methods to safely destroy and dispose of PFAS.

NLRW is awaiting further guidance from the EPA on PFAS best practices in wastewater. Industrial processes can result in significant concentrations of PFAS being released into the wastewater system, so there will likely be new testing requirements for both reclaimed water and biosolids, the particles removed from wastewater during treatment. NLRW will potentially need to adjust or add additional wastewater treatment processes in order to meet the regulations.

NLRW plans to build a new biosolids processing facility. Biosolids are currently handled at each of four water reclamation facilities (WRFs) separately. Preparation to consolidate down to two WRFs is in progress, then the plan is to further consolidate biosolids processing down to a single facility. The new facility will allow for more efficient and economical processing of biosolids for the best disposal or reuse option available.

More information on PFAS and the EPA’s work to reduce PFAS exposure can be found on the EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) webpage.

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