PFAS and Campus Drinking Water
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the United States since the 1940s.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals don’t break down and will accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body. There is mounting evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
The State of Michigan has taken an aggressive stance on the issue and is one of the first states to establish a clean-up standard for PFAS in groundwater used for drinking water.
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor receives its drinking water from the City of Ann Arbor’s water treatment plant. Monthly samples of this drinking water have shown PFAS levels significantly below the Health Advisory Level established by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and adopted by the State of Michigan.
In the fall of 2018, PFAS sampling data showed a spike in PFAS concentrations in the Huron River and the city’s drinking water. The concentration did not exceed EPA advisory levels and was followed by subsequent declines in concentrations.
Q: Is the water on campus safe to drink?
A: The university relies on the City of Ann Arbor to supply campus with safe drinking water that meets all current drinking water quality standards. The city’s water treatment plant employs various treatment techniques to reduce concentrations of contaminants and ensure the drinking water is in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act which establishes safe levels for contaminants of concern.
According to the city’s water utility, PFOA and PFOS levels in Ann Arbor’s drinking water are significantly below the Health Advisory Level established by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and adopted by the State of Michigan.
The EPA advisory level for the combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS is 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Samples tested throughout 2018 showed, at most, levels of the two compounds at 22 ppt.
There are currently no EPA standards for five additional PFAS compounds detected in the city’s drinking water. The total concentration for all PFAS compounds in the drinking water spiked at 88.1 ppt in October 2018, but has since declined.
Recent drinking water PFAS sampling data can be accessed here.
Q: Is the water tested regularly?
A: The Ann Arbor water utility, which provides drinking water to campus buildings, collects monthly samples and works with an independent lab to monitor PFAS levels. The results are posted on the city’s website.
Q: What actions are being taken to ensure the water remains safe to drink?
A: Granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration is the best available technology for removing PFAS in drinking water. The city has GAC filters and has been piloting a new type of carbon in several of its filters since November 2017. The new technology was successful at removing PFOS and PFOA to non-detectable levels during the first nine months following installation.
Due to this success, the city council approved a proposal in September to replace all of the older carbon in the city’s filters with the new type of carbon in fiscal year 2019. After this project is completed, the city anticipates concentrations of PFOS and PFOA will be reliably less than 10 parts per trillion – far below health advisory levels – for water customers, including the university campus. Source: Ann Arbor PFAS Information
The State of Michigan is actively involved in identifying and eliminating sources of PFAS contamination in the Huron River. This is critical as the Huron River is the primary source for Ann Arbor drinking water. More information about the work is available here.
In April 2019, the state put forth updated screening levels for PFAS compounds. While still using a health advisory limit of 70 ppt, these screening levels break down levels at which further action may be needed for multiple PFAS compounds. This document lays out the screening levels and defines what is meant by a screening level.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality also recently formed an advisory workgroup to develop health-based recommendations for the MDEQ regarding PFAS contaminant levels in drinking water.
At U-M, the Michigan Center on Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease is a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Core Center that supports research on environmental health issues, including those related to PFAS contamination in Michigan. The center’s informational resources can be found here.
Q: Aside from drinking water, where else is PFAS found?
A: According to the EPA, PFAS can be found in the following sources:
- Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
- Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and fire-fighting foams.
- Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
- Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.
The contaminant 1,4-Dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical used as a stabilizer in certain chlorinated solvents, paint strippers, greases and waxes.
Short-lived in the atmosphere, 1,4-Dioxane may leach readily from soil to groundwater, migrates rapidly in groundwater and is relatively resistant to biodegradation in the subsurface. It has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor receives its drinking water from the City of Ann Arbor’s water treatment plant. Routine monthly testing in February 2019 detected 1,4-dioxane in the city’s surface water supply (Huron River) and in the finished drinking water that was significantly below any EPA risk levels. Follow up testing by two independent laboratories subsequently found no detectable levels in the drinking water.
The testing results can be found here.