Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade chemicals used in a wide variety of applications and industries. Common uses include foam used to fight fires, metal plating and coating formulations, polyurethane production, inks, varnishes, and lubricants. They can be found in cookware, food packaging, ski wax, and water- or stain-resistant fabric treatments. More than 6,000 PFAS compounds are known to exist, although not all are in current use or production.
Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are characterized by their persistence in groundwater, surface water, soil, and can be ingested by and build up inside humans and animals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed health advisory limits for two common long-chain PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Both have been removed from production in the United States but are still in use in other countries.
Studies have found the health effects of PFAS exposure may include increased cholesterol, changes in liver enzymes, decreased infant birth weight, decreased vaccine response in children, increased high blood pressure in pregnant women, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.
In 2020, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) developed a Reconnaissance Plan (2 MB) with the goal of assessing the potential impact of PFAS on the health of Utahns. Although no PFAS are known to be manufactured in Utah, there are industrial processes that may use PFAS in manufacturing. These potential sources were mapped in proximity to public drinking water wells to compile the first list of target sites. Public drinking water well sites were selected for sampling based on potential risk of contamination from known or suspected sources.
Additional testing resources were offered to select water providers to sample their major surface water sources, since surface water sources are, in general, more vulnerable to contamination. Sampling for both wells and surface water was conducted on the untreated water source, since normal treatment processes do not remove PFAS.
Action and Results
Prior to monitoring for PFAS, DEQ and Utah Department of Health (DOH) staff developed an action plan based on EPA recommended health advisory limits for PFOS and PFOA of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) and related limits for several PFAS developed by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
In all circumstances, the results fell well below all advisory limits for the PFAS measured. This indicates low risk for human exposure to PFAS through drinking water in Utah. In most cases, the results were below the method detection limit (MDL) or were reported between the MDL and the method reporting limit (MRL). The MDL is the value below which PFAS cannot be reliably detected. The MRL is the level at which the test can report a quantifiable value with high confidence, which was between two to five parts per trillion for the PFAS examined in this monitoring project. A part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Although all results were well below advisory levels, in those rare cases where the results were above the MRL, repeat monitoring will be performed to verify if the results were due to cross-contamination or a source in the watershed. Sampling locations and lab results can be found in the map below. This map also shows results from monitoring conducted under the EPA’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) conducted between 2013-2015. UCMR3 monitoring was conducted on treated drinking water samples.
- See the plotted map data
- To obtain a copy of the sampling results with the associated grographic information, please send an email to DDWGRAMMA@utah.gov indicating that you would like to recieve the locational information associated with PFAS sampling.
Future PFAS monitoring activities in Utah will include broader monitoring of drinking water sources, analysis of fish and waterfowl tissue, and municipal wastewater sources. Additionally, the EPA’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) will require monitoring for 29 PFAS compounds by all water systems serving more than 3,300 people. UCMR5 monitoring will be conducted from 2023 through 2025.