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PFAS Awareness

Questions & Answers

Bowling Green Municipal Utilities is committed to providing safe, high quality drinking water. We exceed all current drinking water standards set by the Kentucky Department of Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In recent years, you have probably heard of PFAS in the news. PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These substances include an extensive list of man-made chemicals that consist of a long chain of carbon and fluorine atoms. PFAS are used in many applications because of their unique physical properties, including resistance to high and low temperatures, resistance to degradation, and nonstick characteristics.

Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been widely used to manufacture carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, paints, cosmetics, and other materials. The EPA says most people are exposed to these chemicals through consumer products. However, drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have entered the water supply.

PFAS are a large family of compounds containing up to 5,000 chemicals. The EPA is especially focused on two compounds that may have health effects at very low concentrations. They are Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS). Most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased out in the mid-2000s, but the chemicals remain in the environment due to their inability to degrade.

Health advisories provide interim guidance as the EPA develops formal regulations. As a general rule, health advisories are intended to provide an estimate of the minimum concentration of a compound that may result in adverse health effect over a lifetime. Because there is uncertainty regarding the health effects associated with long-term exposure to PFAS, the EPA sets extremely cautious levels in health advisories; oftentimes, the advisories are lower than current technology can detect.

In 2016, the EPA set health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). In June of 2022, the EPA set new levels for PFOA at 0.004 ppt and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. These are microscopic levels, and they cannot be detected by current EPA-approved laboratory analytical methods. For perspective, 1 ppt is equal to one grain of sand in an Olympic-size swimming pool or 1 drop in 500,000 barrels of water. Scientific equipment can currently detect PFAS compounds at 2 ppt which is well above the levels set in the current advisory.

Two other compounds were also listed in the 2022 health advisory: Perfluorobutanesulfonic Acid (PFBS) and Hexafluoropropylene Oxide Dimer Acid (HFPO-DA, otherwise known as GenX). The level set for PFBS is 2,000 ppt, and the level for GenX is 10 ppt.

PFAS research and the understanding of “safe” levels of PFAS exposure continues to evolve. Ongoing monitoring and research will be required at local, state, and national levels. In 2019, the Kentucky Division of Water collected samples on July 22 as part of a statewide investigation of drinking water systems. The levels of both PFOA and PFOS were both non-detect, which means if PFOA or PFOS were in the samples, the levels were so low that they were not detectable by current scientific sampling equipment.

Again, our water is reliable, safe and exceeds all regulatory standards. BGMU, along with other water distribution systems in Kentucky, has no way to test for PFAS at the level set in the EPA’s latest health advisory. However, we will continue to work with state and federal regulatory agencies regarding ongoing research and rule-making developments. Public health and the quality of your drinking water is our top priority.

If you have questions regarding testing or sampling results, please reach out. We’d be glad to answer your questions!