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PFAS: What do Local Governments Need to Know?

Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS)

Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) have been around for well over a decade, but in recent years, there has been significant progress in knowing what PFAS are, how they affect people, and how public water systems are impacted by them.

PFAS Webinar

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosts a Small Drinking Water Webinar series, and on Tuesday, April 30, the webinar was called “PFAS Drinking Water Regulations and Treatment Methods.” Ashley Greene, of EPA’s Office of Water, and Nick Dugan, of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, were the featured presenters. Together, they talked about what the new PFAS regulations look like and what kind of treatment methods exist. Both are topics that public water systems, and the public, should know about.

The webinar began with some background information on what PFAS is and why it is something EPA is working to control. PFAS exposure over a long period of time can cause cancers and/or various illnesses, and it is especially harmful to those who are pregnant. Even though PFAS affects many communities, according to the EPA, it disproportionately affects small, disadvantaged, and rural communities—like the ones McGill serves.


On April 10, 2024, the EPA released the final PFAS drinking water standards rule, which is anticipated to reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people served by public drinking water systems in America. As part of this rule, both non-enforceable public health goals called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) and enforceable standards of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) were established for five individual PFAS compounds. The rule also sets a Hazard Index (HI) for a combination of two or more of four specific PFAS compounds. These numbers provide guidelines (MCLGs) and regulatory requirements (MCLs) for public water systems and private well owners, which you can read about here.  Regulated water systems have 3 years to complete initial monitoring for the targeted PFAS compounds (April 2027), after which they are required to notify the public of the PFAS levels measured in their drinking water.  After two more years (April 2029), systems will be required to meet the above referenced standards.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

To help systems implement this, $12 billion has been allocated for general treatment / engineering / compliance assistance. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is dedicating $9 billion to small, disadvantaged, and rural communities. Additionally, EPA created burden-reducing and cost-saving opportunities to help ensure all communities are increasingly capable of making these changes.

Options for treating contaminated water

There are several options for treating contaminated water, which are called Best Available Technologies (BATs). Based on current research, BATs for PFAS removal include Reverse Osmosis (RO), Nano Filtration, Anion Exchange, and Granular Activated Carbon (GAC). Each of these are expensive to implement and maintain. Since each water system has unique characteristics, treatment options are best utilized based on individual water quality characteristics. There are not many systems in North Carolina that are using these treatment technologies, so there is lots of room to explore and grow.

PFAS is daunting and there are lots of changes coming, but reducing exposure is in the best interest of our communities, and EPA is answering many of the questions you might have. Reducing PFAS levels in drinking water will save thousands of lives, prevent tens of thousands of illnesses, and reduce immune system/developmental impacts. According to EPA, the quantifiable health benefits are estimated to exceed $1.5 billion annually,

Improving the quality of drinking water

Improving the quality of drinking water requires a lot of work, and our water and wastewater team is helping every day. If you are interested in a job where you spend your days improving water systems and protecting public health, consider becoming a water supply and /or treatment engineer.

Learn More

Reach out to Mike Dowd, the Water and Wastewater Practice Area Leader, to learn more about the drinking water-related work McGill does.

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