California takes misstep on PFAS in water

Monday, August 26, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. – Advocates on Friday criticized the action of the State Water Resources Control Board, as it announced its intent to regulate just two out of a family of almost 5000 toxic chemicals known as per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. 

Based on federal monitoring, California has the most detections of PFAS chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS, in drinking water sources. However, California, unlike other states, has been slow to react.  Critics say that the limited approach announced on Friday puts the state even further behind the rest of the nation and will not only fail to protect public health, but will create an ongoing, costly system of having to address the thousands of newer PFAS replacing PFOA and PFOS.

“At a workshop last March, the State Water Board members all stated publicly their desire to address PFAS in water as a group, instead of the usual chemical by chemical approach,” said Andria Ventura, Toxics Program Manager for Clean Water Action. “This announcement goes totally against the Board’s directive.”

PFAS, which are used to repel grease and moisture and put out oil type fires, are probably best known for their use in Teflon® and Scotchgard®.  However, their usefulness comes at a price. PFAS are “forever chemicals” that do not break down in the environment. They travel easily in water, can build up in the body, and have been linked to serious health effects, including some cancers, reproductive impairment, suppressed immune systems, and high cholesterol. Virtually all Americans have them in their blood.

While the state has embarked on a comprehensive investigation of how PFAS is getting into drinking water sources and has strict notification requirements for PFOA and PFOS thanks to the recent passage of AB 756 (C. Garcia), scientists from around the world have warned that as PFOA and PFOS are being phased out in many countries, including the United States, new versions of PFAS are being introduced which are equally persistent in the environment. Moreover, a growing body of research indicates that these new PFAS are also toxic to humans.  

“Given the environmental and health threat that PFAS represent, California needs a comprehensive approach that ensures we don’t just replace one toxic chemical with its equally dangerous cousin,” claims Ventura. “The good news is that California has the scientific process to do this. The bad news today is that we’re not using it to the extent we could.” The specific chemicals covered in the announcement are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

Andria Ventura