City of Galesburg to Begin Monitoring for PFAS in Drinking Water in Response to Recent EPA Guidance

February 1, 2021 12:51 PM
Galesburg, IL (February 1, 2021) The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) recently tested the City of Galesburgwater system for compounds known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) as part of a statewide study of community water supplies. PFAS are a group of thousands of manmade substances that have been produced in the United States since the 1940s and utilized for a variety of applications ranging from water and stain-proofing to firefighting. Some PFAS have been phased out of production due to environmental and human health concerns, yet they persist in the environment and may contaminate surface and ground waters. Two of the most common compounds within this class, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), stopped being produced in the United States in the early 2000s, but these compounds may still be present in imported goods.
Neither the Illinois EPA nor the U.S. EPA have yet developed enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS. In the interim, Illinois EPA has developed health-based Draft Guidance Levels for the small number of PFAS for which there is appropriate information to do so. Draft Guidance Levels are intended to be protective of all people consuming the water over a lifetime of exposure. It is important to understand that Draft Guidance Levels are not regulatory limits for drinking water. Rather, the Draft Guidance Levels are benchmarks against which sampling results are compared to determine if additional investigation or other response action is necessary. 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is evaluating PFAS and plans to regulate PFAS in the future. Currently, the EPA is gathering data in all the states in order to be able to determine a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and treatment options. As part of that process, the City of Galesburg was notified in September 2020, that the Illinois EPA (IEPA) would be testing community water supplies in Illinois for the presence of PFAS. In November 2020, the State collected initial water samples at Galesburg’s water treatment plant, with follow-up samples collected in December 2020.
The City of Galesburg was notified Wednesday, January 27, 2021, that the two water samples that were collected at the Water Treatment plant in November and December 2020, exceeded the proposed Draft Guidance Level (DGL) for PFOA (one subset of PFAS). In response, the City is taking immediate action to inform consumers, initiate monitoring, and evaluate options to reduce exposure levels.
The EPA samples collected in November and December tested for 18 PFAS. Of those 18, the City’s results only detected four PFAS, three of which were below the draft guidance level, and one which was above the draft guidance level. The one PFAS which exceeded the draft guidance level was PFOA, Perfluorooctanoic acid, with results of 17 parts per trillion (ppt) in November and 12 ppt in December. The draft guidance level for PFOA is 2 ppt. So far, about 25% of the 1,454 community water supplies in Illinois have been tested, and of those tested thus far, 14 have exceeded the draft guidance level for at least one of the PFAS categories.
As part of the EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) The EPA identified PFAS to be studied, and in 2013 collected samples from the City as part of their initial testing. The 2013 results indicated 23 ppt of PFOS and PFOA combined; however,at that time there was not yet a draft guidance level developed in order to have a scale on which to evaluate the levels identified. Follow-up testing in 2014, indicated PFAS were not detected in the City’s water supply. No further testing was conducted by the IEPA between 2014 and 2019, as PFAS are not currently a regulated contaminate.
In 2016, the EPA issued a Health Advisory for PFOA & PFOS for Drinking Water. At that time, the Health Advisory established the health advisory levels at 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS from drinking water and stated that the health advisory level offered a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. On January 28, 2021, the IEPA issued a new PFAS Statewide Health Advisory,which provides updated health-based guidance levels.
"Water division personnel are cognizant of the developing study of PFAS and future regulation of PFAS by the EPA, as well as partnering with industry experts to ensure the City adapts to all new regulations to maintain safe drinking water for the community," said Wayne Carl, Director of Public Works. "The recent release of draft guidance levels of PFAS by the EPA gives a goalpost to shoot for, a tool we did not have prior to the test results received in January."
Studies indicate that exposures to high levels of PFAS over time may cause adverse health effects. The detection of levels of PFOA that exceed the draft guidance level, does not necessarily indicate a fundamental change in the water quality, but rather new testing in response to emerging research and possible future regulation of PFAS. Citizens concerned about exposure to PFAS in drinking water can minimize the risks by utilizing bottled water that has been tested for PFAS or installing filters or treatment systems certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or NSF International for the reduction of PFOA and PFOS. Boiling does not destroy PFAS, and research indicates there are not any hazards related to PFAS through bathing or showering, as PFAS is not easily absorbed into the skin.
In accordance with the IEPA recommendation, the City is informing consumers of sample results by distributing the attached letter and PFAS Fact Sheet to all City of Galesburg water customers. This week, the city will begin quarterly testingof all raw water sources and finished water for PFAS. To generate a plan and timeline to reduce exposure to PFAS, the City has contacted a consulting firm that is familiar with treatment processes that will remove PFAS from the water. A proposal will be discussed for the consultant to provide possible water treatment options that would reduce the PFAS level and include cost estimatesof each option for consideration.
PFAS in drinking water is not solely a City of Galesburg or region specific concern, as water systems nation-wide can be impacted by PFAS. More information and resources regarding PFAS and the potential impacts can be found on the EPA’s website at:
"At the end of theday, providing safe drinking water to our citizens, while being transparentabout any potential shortcomings that have been detected is of the utmost importance to the City of Galesburg," said Carl. "As advances are made in the study of contaminates, there will always be new information and standards to achieve. The new guidance on PFAS indicates we have work to do in order to lower our levels of PFOAs and intend to start that work immediately."


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