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PFAS Frequently Asked Questions

What is PFAS?

Per and Poly Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a class of thousands of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of commercial products since the 1940s.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they do not break down and they can accumulate over time.

What types of products have PFAS?

PFAS has been used in the production of carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, cosmetics, paper packaging for food, and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. They are also used in aqueous firefighting foam and in several other industrial processes. Because these chemicals have been used in such a wide array of consumer products, most people have been exposed to them.

PFAS in Drinking Water

PFAS may be found in drinking water sources due to land application of wastewater or industrial sludges, discharges from wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, use of firefighting foam, and intentional or unintentional spills.  PFAS in drinking water is always the result of human activity and contamination.

How much is too much PFAS in drinking water?

On March 14, 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six PFAS compounds (PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, HFPO-DA, PFHxS and PFBS). The proposed rule sets a Maximum Contaminate Level for PFOA and PFOS at 4 parts per trillion (ppt – also referred to as nanograms per liter, or ng/L.) and a Hazard Index for the remaining four compounds as a group.

In June 2021, the Maine Legislature set an enforceable regulatory PFAS standard of 20 ppt. This standard applies to the cumulative levels of six PFAS compounds (PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA).

Is there PFAS in Kennebec Water District’s Water (KWD)?

Yes.  KWD has been regularly testing its water for PFAS compounds since 2019. Of the 20 PFAS compounds tested, three have had detections (PFOA, PFHpA, and PFHxA) with cumulative levels between six and ten ppt.   The cumulative levels are well below the Maine standard of 20 ppt.  However, the most recent test result for PFOA is 4.4 ppt (0.4 ppt above the proposed EPA standard for PFOA).

What is KWD doing to reduce PFAS levels in drinking water?

In advance of the anticipated federal regulation proposal, KWD retained the services of CDM Smith (an international engineering firm with offices in Manchester, NH and Boston, MA) in October 2022 to complete a Basis of Design Memorandum outlining treatment options for PFAS compounds that could be implemented at our current treatment facility.

KWD has also requested federal funds to cover the cost of this evaluation and additional study work.  Evaluating solutions and implementing a preferred solution will likely take two to five years.  There are no immediate actions KWD can take to reduce the levels of PFAS in the drinking water.

What do I need to do?

If you would like to reduce your exposure to PFAS in drinking water, you may consider installing a point of use treatment system in your home.  Make sure to select a system that is certified to remove PFAS and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance and/or replacement.    

Why is there PFAS in our drinking water?

China Lake is the sole source of water for KWD.  The level of PFAS in the drinking water is essentially the same as the level of PFAS in China Lake.  The cause of PFAS contamination in China Lake is currently unknown.  However, this contamination illustrates the continuing need to protect sources of drinking water from human activity that might cause contamination. 

What additional steps will KWD be taking?

KWD will continue investigating the treatment options outlined in the Basis of Design Memorandum to ensure compliance with the all state and federal regulations while considering the financial impact on ratepayers.   

In the meantime, KWD will continue to collect water, analyze, and trend samples to determine if there are any changes to PFAS levels in China Lake.  KWD will continue efforts to protect the water quality in China Lake and deliver high quality water at reasonable rates.

What will PFAS treatment cost?

Installation of PFAS treatment will result in increases in water rates due to the likely high initial cost and ongoing operational costs associated with PFAS removal.  Preliminary cost estimates for the construction of PFAS treatment range from $1 million to $20 million with annual operating cost increases ranging from $150,000 to well over $1 million.

To ensure KWD selects the treatment process providing the best value (reliable PFAS reduction at the lowest possible long-term cost), evaluation of the various treatment options and construction of the preferred treatment will likely take two to five years.

What is KWD doing to mitigate the cost of treatment?

KWD will thoroughly evaluate treatment options in consideration of treatment performance as well as the initial cost and the ongoing long-term cost to ratepayers.  Selection of a preferred solution will also consider the availability of low interest loans and grants which will offset ratepayer costs.

KWD has already applied for federal funding (grant and loan package) to cover the cost of the initial study work.  Once a preferred treatment option is selected, KWD will be applying for additional federal funds to cover the cost of construction. 

KWD has retained the services of SL Environmental to file suit against PFAS manufacturers to cover costs associated with PFAS treatment.  This litigation will likely take multiple years and there is no certainty of the success of this effort.

For More Information

More information about PFAS in drinking water can be found on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website at: www.epa.gov/pfas.