PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WCHS) — The EPA is finally acting to limit so-called "forever chemicals," including some that have roots in West Virginia, in drinking water.
Officials with the agency said it will save lives and prevent serious illness.
At a Wood County chemical plant, the so-called forever chemicals that once were produced for things such as waterproof clothing and non-stick frying pans may have found their way into the drinking water of some 200 million Americans.
Exposure to the PFAS family of chemicals has been linked to cancer, liver damage and other health effects. Per-and polyflorinated substances don't degrade in the environment. The EPA claims the first federal limits on them will save thousands of lives.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the ranking Republican member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said she is pleased that the government has finally issued safety standards that she has been asking for three administrations.
Capito questioned the state's director of water and waste management at a Wednesday hearing in Washington.
"What do think are our biggest challenges, specific to our state, and water infrastructure for the small and rural?” Capito said. “Is it going to be the testing for PFAS as we see it come through? The destruction of PFAS? What do we do with it when we get it? How are we going to replace our filters? Naming some of the things, if you could say it from your perspective.”
Katheryn Emery, director of water and waste management with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said she believes the primary thing “is the affordability and sustainability for our communities.”
While DuPont/Chemours paid for some upgraded water systems when PFAS or C8 problems became apparent, Parkersburg never reached the level to make it eligible. The system's planned improvements, which are funded in part by a nearly $13 million from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Job Development Council will meet the new federal standard. But dealing with forever chemicals in not a one-shot deal.
“It’s not just a capital expense of installing the filters or whatever treatment process,” Derrick Fairbanks, assistant manager of the Parkersburg Utility Board, said. “There’s continual operation and maintenance expenses that a utility will incur as part of the operation of the filters to remove the PFAS compound.”
The EPA has estimated that cost at about $772 million a year across the country, but industry group are concerned it could me more.
Adding new treatment capacity may be a tough step for some troubled utilities. The PSC currently lists 13 in West Virginia already considered "under duress."
In a statement provided to Eyewitness News, West Virginia American Water said it supports the EPA’s efforts to protect drinking water.
“As always, American Water supports the U.S. EPA’s efforts to protect the quality of drinking water and our annual Water Quality Reports show our commitment to protecting our customers and the communities we serve by meeting or surpassing required federal, state, and local drinking water standards,” the statement said.
More information on the company’s water quality