GAO Recommends EPA Use New Data to Analyze the Demographics of Communities with PFAS in Their Drinking Water
Posted on October 20, 2022 by Lynn L. Bergeson
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on October 19, 2022, entitled “Persistent Chemicals: EPA Should Use New Data to Analyze the Demographics of Communities with PFAS in Their Drinking Water.” The Congressional requesters asked GAO to examine per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in drinking water and related state actions. GAO’s report examines what recent data from selected states show about the occurrence of PFAS in drinking water; the demographic characteristics of communities in selected states with and without PFAS in their drinking water; and factors that influenced states’ decisions to test and develop standards or guidance for PFAS in drinking water. GAO states that recent drinking water data from six selected states show that at least 18 percent of the states’ 5,300 total water systems had at least two PFAS -- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) --above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2022 interim revised health advisory levels. GAO found that 978 water systems had the two PFAS at or above EPA’s minimum reporting level of 4 parts per trillion (ppt), the lowest level reliably quantified by most laboratories, and above EPA’s health advisory levels. The demographic characteristics of communities with PFAS in their drinking water varied in the states GAO examined. GAO states that according to EPA officials, EPA does not currently have information to determine the extent to which disadvantaged communities are exposed to PFAS in drinking water nationally; EPA plans to collect comprehensive nationwide data, however.
GAO states that according to state officials, public health and PFAS contamination concerns influenced some states’ decisions to test and develop enforceable standards or nonenforceable guidance for PFAS in drinking water. As of July 2022, six states set standards and were influenced to do so by public health concerns. When the states set standards, the levels they set were more stringent than EPA’s 2016 lifetime health advisory levels. Fourteen additional states developed guidance or began developing standards because of PFAS contamination.
GAO recommends that EPA conduct a nationwide analysis using comprehensive data to determine the demographic characteristics of communities with PFAS in their drinking water. EPA agreed with the recommendation.