Montpelier, Vt. – As part of the state’s expanded effort to identify sources of PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemical contamination in the environment, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) sent letters to public drinking water system operators to begin testing for PFAS.
Act 21, which was passed by the Vermont Legislature and signed into law by Governor Phil Scott in May, requires all public and noncommunity water systems to conduct monitoring for PFAS by December 2019. If monitoring confirms PFAS contaminants in excess of 20 parts per trillion (ppt), the water system is required to implement treatment to reduce PFAS contaminants below that level.
“We are pleased to have worked with the legislature to advance these next steps in the state’s nation-leading PFAS response,” said Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke. “I want to thank all of the public water suppliers for moving forward expeditiously with this important work. We all share the goal of protecting Vermonters from the impacts of PFAS and other contaminants.”
PFAS is a large group of human-made chemicals that have been used in industry and in many consumer products since the 1950s because they are resistant to heat, water, oil, grease and stains. PFAS chemicals include PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid).
PFAS can be found in drinking water, food, indoor dust, many consumer products, and in the workplace. Some PFAS do not break down easily and therefore stay in the environment for a very long time, especially in water. There are currently five PFAS chemicals regulated by the State of Vermont.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, virtually everyone is exposed to PFAS chemicals, some of which can have adverse effects on human health. Although more research is needed, studies in people have shown that certain PFAS may:
- affect growth, learning and behavior of babies and older children
- lower a person’s chance of getting pregnant
- interfere with the body’s natural hormones
- increase cholesterol levels
- affect the immune system
- increase the risk of cancer
ANR has already begun to implement many of Act 21’s requirements. In July 2019, the agency finalized its statewide sampling plan for PFAS. The plan outlines ANR’s monitoring approach to test PFAS levels in a variety of sectors, including car washes and landfills.
Before December 1, all public community water systems, schools and other water systems that serve the same 25 people for more than six months of the year will be required to test for PFAS substances in drinking water. In total, samples will be collected from approximately 650 public water systems. If a system has levels above the 20 ppt state standard, the system operator will post “Do not drink” (DND) notices, and find a solution to reduce contamination.
In instances where contamination is found, the state will quickly work with water system operators to identify potential PFAS sources and provide guidance to those communities. The state will also investigate the source in order to identify any party responsible for the contamination. ANR is also developing an emergency response manual for communities and engineers to use during the response.
Over the next five years, the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) will embark on a series of steps to safeguard the public from PFAS contamination:
- The testing of all public drinking water systems by December 1, 2019
- The further investigation of additional potential sources and impacts of PFAS
- The finalization of a drinking water standard
- The development of the scientific basis for and eventual setting of water quality standards for lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands
As part of Act 21, ANR will also be evaluating PFAS as a class of chemicals, and whether it is possible to regulate them as a class. The new law requires ANR to adopt water quality standards for the regulated PFAS contaminants.