MORGANTOWN — Legislators got an update on Tuesday on the Department of Environmental Protection’s program to address the protection of “forever chemicals” — PFAS — in drinking water supplies across the state. They also heard a progress report on the Fire Commission’s efforts to dispose of PFAS-containing firefighting foam.
Tuesday was the final full day of September interim meetings, and Scott Mandirola, DEP’s deputy secretary for External Affairs, delivered the drinking water project update to the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources.
DEP is carrying out the directives of HB 3189, the PFAS Protection Act, which targets potentially toxic PFAS — which don’t degrade over time and easily pass through soil into groundwater — in drinking water. A 2020 study tested the water at all 279 of the state’s raw water intakes. Initial results show 37 of the sites had PFAS levels above the EPA’s drinking water health advisory. But EPA then lowered the thresholds, placing 100 more sites under the new advisories.
Under the bill, DEP was to go back, resample the finished (treated) water from those sites and try to determine the sources. Industries that use PFAS chemicals would report their usage to the DEP. And DEP would, to the extent data is available, develop action plans by July 1, 2024, to address the sources and mitigate the impacts on public water systems.
Mandirola told legislators on Tuesday that DEP has contracted with the U.S. Geological Survey to test 106 finished water samples, starting this month. The total cost is $446,000, with USGS contributing $45,000 and DEP paying the remaining $401,000.
Regarding the action plans, Mandirola said DEP has partnered with 20 non-governmental organizations — primarily the West Virginia Rivers Coalition — to apply for a $1 million grant to conduct public outreach and gather information about local issues to help write the plans. They are expecting notification on the grant in October.
The Department of Health and Human Resources and the DEP previously formed a working group to help local water systems develop plans to treat drinking water for PFAS. Mandirola said the group will meet this fall to work out a planning schedule to complete the action plans. Grant money would arrive in December.
Mandirola said the U.S. EPA is expected to have a finalized human health water-quality standard for PFAS in fall 2024 and DEP will then propose adopting a rule for the state, which would need legislative approval.
Also, he said, water companies must report the presence of PFAS in their supplies to their customers, under the directives of EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5. The state Bureau for Public Health is beginning to receive that data and the water companies will be informing their customers.
The firefighting foam initiative stems from HB 2860, passed last session and directing the state Fire Commission to find a method to dispose of foam containing PFAS.
The Department of Homeland Security and state fire marshal sent out a survey to the 430 fire departments along with healthcare and industrial facilities to identify whether their firefighting equipment contains PFAS.
State Fire Marshal Ken Tyree told the legislators that there are two major types of foam: Class A for wood, paper and brush fires; and Class B, called AFFF, for gasoline, oil and jet fuel fires. Class B contains PFAS. While A can be used on the hydrocarbon fires, it’s less effective and requires the use of more foam.
So far, he said, they’ve received 103 responses — from 95 fire departments, two healthcare facilities and six industrial facilities. The 95 fire departments reported possessing a total of 11,500 gallons of AFFF foam — about 120 gallons per department on average. The six industry responders have about 18,000 gallons and the two healthcare facilities have about 205 gallons.
Nate Meadows, DEP’s homeland security and response manager, told the legislators that they contacted a hazardous waste disposal contractor to get an estimated price for disposing of the AFFF.
The waste would be gathered and collected based on the six emergency management regions, he said. For the amount disclosed in the survey so far, the cost would be about $761,000. Projecting the cost to include all 430 fire departments, it would be about $3 million.
Committee co-chair Sen. Mike Stuart, R-Kanawha, asked the presenters why they would pay for disposal of any unused foam rather than just returning it to the vendor.
Mandirola said that’s actually being discussed nationally and was a topic of conversation at the last Environmental Council of States meeting — to create a buy-back or take-back program.
Opened and used product, he said, likely wouldn’t be returnable and would have to be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility.