What are PFAS?
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of more than 4700 man-made compounds that are in widespread use in most people’s everyday lives. These compounds are found in firefighting foams, electrical insulation, and water proof safety clothing, as well as in everyday products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain and water repellant carpeting and fabrics, some water proof makeup and dental floss, and more.
How did PFAS enter the water supply?
PFAS are a unique family of compounds that are produced for their water repellant, stain resistant, and non-stick properties. These compounds have these properties because they do not tend to react with other chemicals in the environment. As a result, they take many years to break down in nature, so they enter groundwater and surface waters through runoff from regular human use.
What is the EPA regulation?
There is no current EPA regulation for PFAS. EPA sets a health advisory for drinking water that has 70 ng/L or more of two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, combined. A health advisory is not a regulation, but rather guidance intended to protect vulnerable populations from adverse health effects that are known or anticipated from drinking water with levels of certain compounds. Per the EPA website “EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.” For more information regarding vulnerability to exposure and what the risks are, residents are advised to contact their physician.
What is the Massachusetts regulation?
In Massachusetts, drinking water suppliers are regulated by MassDEP, which often has regulations that are much stricter than those set by EPA. Massachusetts began regulating PFAS compounds in early 2021, and Attleboro began required sampling in April 2021. Massachusetts sets an enforceable limit to PFAS in drinking water at a level of 20 ng/L for six PFAS compounds combined (PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA). This 20 ng/L limit is based on a quarterly average of sample results from each of the drinking water plants in any system, and is much more stringent than the health advisory set by EPA. It is also based on a lifetime of drinking the water at locations with PFAS above the 20 ng/L limit. Short term exposure poses no risk for healthy populations. This limit also gives an even higher margin of protection for vulnerable populations. As above, for more information regarding vulnerability to exposure and what the risks are, residents are advised to contact their physician. More information about the PFAS regulation in Massachusetts can be found at https://www.mass.gov/info-details/per-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas
Will the Water Department inform me if there is PFAS detected in an amount less than 20 ng/L?
Yes. As above, the 20 ng/L limit gives a large margin of safety for vulnerable populations, so drinking water with PFAS below that level is not considered a health risk. Each January, the Water Department reports results for any compounds detected in sampling from the year before, including those that are not regulated or those regulated compounds that were detected below the enforceable limit. A link to the current report is sent to residents with their first water bill in each calendar year. Past reports can be found at http://www.cityofattleboro.us/Archive.aspx?AMID=49
What if I don’t want to drink the water from the affected plant?
The Wading River Plant was shut down on September 23, 2021. We are performing extensive flushing in the coming days to remove the affected water from the system as quickly as possible, so by the end of September 2021, all areas will be fed solely by the West Street plant, which remains in compliance. The Attleboro Water Department plans to leave the Wading River plant offline until temporary treatment is in place. Procuring temporary treatment is a process that involves design, permitting, and construction, which all take time. In addition, many other water suppliers across the State are also experiencing elevated levels of PFAS, so treatment equipment is in high demand. The Attleboro Department is doing everything possible to expedite this process, and temporary treatment is expected to be in place and operational in the spring of 2022.
Should Wading River need to be placed back online before temporary treatment is in place, there will be water provided at the West Street location throughout the elevated levels of PFAS from the Wading River Plant. This is not bottled water, but it is water produced directly from the West Street Plant, which remains in compliance with the new PFAS regulations. The Water Department does not have the resources to provide containers, so residents are asked to bring their own.
Is the water safe for cooking, washing food, brushing teeth, and showering?
Yes. The 20 ng/L limit is based on a lifetime average of drinking water with PFAS levels greater than 20 ng/L. A lifetime average is considered 2 liters a day for 70 or more years. None of the above activities lead to consuming such a large volume of water.