Environment, West Virginia Legislature

State DEP report shows PFAS contamination at 67 sites across West Virginia, outlines next steps

Just two days before the U.S. EPA released its new health advisory levels for four members of the PFAS chemical group, the Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources reviewed a report prepared for the state Department of Environmental Protection by the U.S. Geological Survey.

It showed that 67 sites across the state had at least detectable PFAS. The study was conducted from May 2019 to May 2021, with environmental samples from all 279 public water systems, which included several schools and daycares with their own treatment systems.

The study emerged from a legislative resolution creating a project to identify drinking water sources with measurable amounts of PFAS; determine processes or land use factors affecting PFAS concentrations; inform state agencies of any need for additional PFAS investigation; and assist state regulatory agencies in protecting public health by providing information on statewide PFAS distribution in source water.

The report said that of the 67 sites, 37 had levels above the reporting level of 4 ppt — parts per trillion — for two PFOA, PFOS, or both. Five sites had levels above 70 ppt. A companion Department of Health and Human Resources report said that 14 sites have surface water systems and 23 have groundwater systems.

As we reported on Tuesday, EPA last week released new interim lifetime health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS: PFOA’s level was reduced from 70 ppt to 0.004 ppt; PFOS’ level was reduced from 70 ppt to 0.02 ppt.

The report said that the 31 of the 37 sites were clustered in two areas: 13 in the Eastern Panhandle and 18 along the Ohio River.

Delegate Evan Hansen — D-Monongalia, a member of the commission and owner of Downstream Strategies, a Morgantown water quality consulting company — noted that the Panhandle contamination is apparently linked to Air National Guard firefighting foam used in training. The Ohio River contamination is linked to Dupont’s Washington Works plant, which put the chemical known as C8 into the water, leading to the class action suits in 2001 that are featured in the National Geographic documentary “The Devil We Know,” and the movie “Dark Waters.”

Hansen said there was one unexpected result among the five registering more than 70 ppt: Glen Dale Water Works. While its source is not yet known, it may have come from a now-defunct plating plant.

For the state, Hansen said, the next step for the 37 sites with PFOS and PFOA is to test the treated water to see if the chemicals are moving through the respective treatment plants. Carbon filters can address some portion of PFAS, but he doesn’t know down to what levels the filters can capture.

Another issue will be finding upstream sources and how to mitigate those. Permitted operations, for instance, could have discharge limits put on their NPDES permits. IF PFAS are leeching from landfills, they also could see NPDES permit adjustments but the question then arises who pays for that, since the bills ultimately fall on the residents served by the landfill.

And if PFAS mitigation falls on water treatment plants, he said, the question again comes to who pays: the consumer or the polluter.

The report suggests a number of questions the state should pursue:

What is the PFAS concentration in treated finished water at sites that had detected PFAS?

What is the distribution of PFAS in domestic wells in areas of contamination or where there is a lack of groundwater data?

What are the major sources and exposure pathways of PFAS in West Virginia?

What are influences on transformation and change in PFAS concentrations over time in surface water and groundwater? This question, the report says, will require long-term monitoring for PFAS in groundwater, surface water, sediment and tissues to understand PFAS fate and transport in areas of known contamination.

DHHR’s report notes that federal funding is available to pursue PFAS solutions. The state will receive $7.5 million per year for the next five years from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that will go into the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

The state also expects to be eligible, DHHR said, for additional Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act funds. The WIIN Act establishes the Small, Underserved, and Disadvantaged Communities grant to award funding to states, territories, and tribes to assist public water systems in meeting Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.

As we reported Tuesday, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has been a leader at the federal level in tackling the PFAS problem. Hansen has been a leader at the state level.

For several years, Hansen has introduced the Clean Drinking Water Act to discover how prevalent PFAS is in state waters and how to protect the public.

Hansen’s most recent try was HB 4055 during the 2022 session. It was sent to House Health and never got on an agenda. The bills has three parts. One, it requires industrial sites that have used PFAS to disclose that to the DEP. Two, those facilities will have to monitor their discharges.

Three, state agencies would use the data gathered to propose West Virginia-based Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act thresholds for PFAS levels.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp

EMAIL dbeard@dominionpost.com