Tiny toxins: Measuring the “Forever Chemicals”
The reporting thresholds for the group of chemicals lumped under the PFAS label are minute.
Writer Martin Wisckol explains that using current California standards:
If PFOA is found in 14 parts per trillion, the water agency must notify the cities served by that well for the first round of testing, recently completed. For PFOS, the trigger is 13 parts per trillion. Those thresholds are dubbed “notification levels.”
For the next round of quarterly testing, the notification levels are being lowered to 5.1 parts per trillion for PFOA and 6.5 for PFOS.
In an Olympic-sized swimming pool, one part per trillion amounts to four grains of sugar.
In 67 trips to the moon, it would equal 1 inch.
If the combined total of PFOA and PFOS in a well is 70 parts per trillion or more — an amount known as the “response level” — the state recommends that the well be taken out of service, and the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that consumers be informed. A new state law kicking in next year will require customer notification.
What’s totally unknown is if the California standard is overly cautious or lax, since no federal standard for the contaminants has been set.
Although the chemicals have been around for decades, regular testing for them is recent.
California only this year began ordering testing for the chemicals, and a state law requiring that customers be notified about the presence of those chemicals won’t kick in until next year.
PFAS have been called “forever chemicals” because they resist breaking down in nature.
“PFAS is the climate change of toxic chemicals,” said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for the advocacy group Clean Water Action. “They never go away. Virtually all Americans have them in their blood. Babies are born with them. They’re some of the scariest things I’ve worked on.”