California Holds Technical PFAS Seminar to Inform Public of State of Science and Possible Future Drinking Water Regulations


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Last month, the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) hosted a comprehensive two-day seminar on per- and polyflouroaklyl substances (PFAS) in California. PFAS are a family of an estimated 4,000-6,300 chemical compounds that have a variety of applications due to their stability in the environment.  Although some reports suggest that these chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment, such pervasiveness may be explained by sampling for parts per trillion, in contrast to the parts per billion or million for which most chemicals are sampled.

Presenters at the California PFAS seminar included staff members from the State Board, as well as staff members the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), and the Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC). All three organizations are sub-agencies of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA). A representative from California’s Department of Public Health also provided an update on its California Regional Exposure (CARE) PFAS study designed to measure levels of PFAS in people throughout the State. Representatives from the United States EPA (U.S. EPA), and from various members of the scientific, legal, and NGO communities also presented.  The conference was widely attended by water supply and waste water treatment providers, technical consultants, NGOs, and lawyers.

Participants generally acknowledged during the two-day seminar that current efforts to regulate PFAS outpace the state of the science and understanding of the comprehensive set of these compounds.  Although long-chain legacy PFAS compounds such as PFOA and PFOS have garnered the most attention, relatively little is understood about the prevalence and use of myriad other compounds in the PFAS family, including the newer, shorter chain “NextGen” compounds. Indeed, only around 40 compounds of this large family of chemicals are presently detectible and quantifiable using existing standardized analytical methods. As a result, many participants grappled with the clear tension between a general desire to develop meaningful regulations and the need to do so in an informed and deliberate manner.

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