PFAS and Drinking Water

PFAS in drinking water are a nation-wide concern.  More information and resources regarding PFAS and potential impacts can be found on the EPA website at:  https://www.epa.gov/pfas

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s, and are (or have been) found in many consumer products like cookware, food packaging, and stain repellants. The first PFAS were invented in the 1930s and were the main ingredients in nonstick and waterproof coatings, according to the Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council (ITRC).  Development of these chemicals increased in the late 1960s after a deadly fire aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, in 1967. The fire resulted from the accidental launch of a rocket into armed planes and loaded fuel tanks. This blaze nearly destroyed the ship and killed more than 130 people. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS. PFAS may be released into the air, soil, and water, including sources of drinking water. PFOA and PFOS are the most studied PFAS chemicals and stopped being produced in the United States in the early 2000s, though they are still present in the environment.

Where do they come from?

PFAS can be found in:

  • 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 (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
  • 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.

Are There Health Effects from PFAS?

There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health issues in humans. If humans, or animals, ingest PFAS (by eating or drinking food or water than contain PFAS), the PFAS are absorbed, and can accumulate in the body. PFAS stay in the human body for long periods of time. As a result, as people get exposed to PFAS from different sources over time, the level of PFAS in their bodies may increase to the point where they suffer from adverse health effects.

Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animal studies. The most consistent findings from human studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:

  • Infant birth weights,
  • Effects on the immune system,
  • Cancer (for PFOA)
  • Thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)

If you have specific health concerns, please consult your health care professional.

There are a variety of ways that people can be exposed to these chemicals and at different levels of exposure. For example, people can be exposed to low levels of PFAS through food, which can become contaminated through:

  • Contaminated soil and water used to grow the food
  • Food packaging containing PFAS
  • Equipment that used PFAS during food processing

IEPA PFAS Testing Study

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) recently tested our water system for 18 compounds known as Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) as part of a statewide investigation of community water supplies. As stated earlier, PFAS are a group of thousands of man-made substances that have been produced in the United States since the 1940s and utilized for a variety of applications ranging from stain/water-proofing to firefighting. Some PFAS have been phased out of production in the United States due to environmental and human health concerns, yet they remain in the environment and may contaminate surface and ground waters.

 As of January 2021, neither the Illinois EPA nor the U.S. EPA have developed enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS. However, in the meantime, the Illinois EPA has developed health-based screening levels for the small number of PFAS for which there is adequate health information to do so. Screening levels are intended to be protective of all people consuming the water over a lifetime of exposure. Currently, there is not enough information or data available for scientists to develop health-based screening levels for all of the PFAS sampled, however some of the analytes do have health based screening levels associated with them.

While none of the analytes detected  in Rockford drinking water were above the established health-based screening levels, Illinois EPA testing has determined that two PFAS were detected in our water system at levels greater than or equal to the lowest concentration the laboratory can reliably detect, shown as the Minimum Reporting Level as shown in the table below. The levels are presented in units of nanogram per liter (ng/L) or parts per trillion (ppt).

The Rockford Water Division has taken measures to respond to the results of this testing. As a proactive measure(s) to protect our drinking water supply, we are working to:

• Monitor PFAS levels through quarterly well site sampling beginning in January 2021

• Evaluate treatment options if necessary

• Implement treatment options if required

Click here for a summary of the compounds detected in our water system as a result of the IEPA study. There were two compounds detected at very low levels in three of our wells.  There were no detects in any of our remaining wells.