Image: Firefighters Using PFC fire retardant foam.
On Thursday, June 2, 2016 the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority (WMEL) shocked residents when they recommended that over 100,000 residents not drink their tap water. In addition to 10,000 direct customers the water authority serves West Morgan County and East Lawrence County of Northern Alabama. The recommendation was made in response to a health advisory published by the (EPA) May 19, 2016. The new health advisory claims chemicals contaminating the water supply in Northern Alabama pose a significant human health risk at much lower levels than previously thought. The contaminants of concern belong to a class of chemicals called perflourinated compounds (PFC’s), specifically: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The recommendation is expected to remain in effect until the water authority can implement a short-term solution in late September. In the interim, residents are figuratively left dry for the next 4 months. To make things worse the water authority also stated that it does not have the funds to provide bottled water while the solution is underway. According to the health advisory the water only poses a threat if it is consumed; water usage for showering and laundry are still deemed safe.
So what are PFC’s and why are they so dangerous?
PFC’s synthetic class of chemicals made popular by the manufacturing company 3M. PFC’s were heavily relied upon their water repellant (Scotchguard) and fire retardant properties (Fire Fighting Foam). However, 3M and the industry discontinued their manufacturing and use of the chemicals in 2002 due to political pressure and eventual regulation. While there is currently no reported danger from casual contact with PFC’s, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ingestion certain PFC’s have been shown to cause: developmental delays in the fetus and child, decreased fertility, increased cholesterol, changes in liver function, changes to the immune system, increased uric acid, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer. While some may question the strength of this evidence; it was strong enough for the WMEL to issue its recommendation.
So what can be done about PFC’s?
The first thing anyone should do is get their water tested on a regular basis for the presence of contaminants. Once the water is test and the presence of contaminants are confirmed it is time to choose the most appropriate water treatment for the contaminants in your water. According to the EPA, CDC, ASTDR, WMEL, and others the use of an activated carbon filter is recommended for reduction and removal of PFC’s. In fact, the short term solution the WMEL is hoping to implement will be a series of six railcar sized activated carbon filters. The Filters are expected to last until 2019 when they will need to be replaced. It is also possible to filter PFC’s from water using reverse osmosis, however, the cost along with the work that goes into maintaining the various membranes can often be a barrier to proper use of these systems.
We at Clearly Filtered would like to offer our best wishes to all those affected by this horrible situation. Unfortunately, PFC contamination seems to be a widespread and the scariest part is that until May 19th the water in Alabama (and many other municipalities) was “safe” to drink. However, unlike in Flint, Michigan public official have been very proactive in trying to remove PFC’s from their water; the WMEL even filed a lawsuit against 3M for the cost of the contamination over a year before the EPA’s announcement. Even with the all these great plans in place, the residents of Northern Alabama still have to procure their own safe drinking water or keep drinking their contaminated water.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be drinking water containing PFC’s please browse our selection of premium filters.
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Dennis Pillion (2016). North Alabama drinking water contamination: What you need to know. Retrieved June 06, 2016
- Dennis Pillion (2016). 100,000 north Alabama customers advised not to drink water due to chemical contamination. Retrieved June 06, 2016
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- Health Effects of PFAS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 06, 2016