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City Council endorses EPA regulations to rid ‘forever chemicals’ from Alexandria’s drinking water

Tap water in Alexandria. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria’s drinking water has an “actionable” level of Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), and the City Council just endorsed a plan to help clean it up.

The long-lasting substances, also known as “forever chemicals,” are hard to break down and pollute Alexandria’s drinking water to an “actionable” degree, Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in a letter unanimously supported by Council. PFAS are proven to weaken immune response, increase cancer risk and liver damage, and pose a risk to pregnant women and their babies.

“This is not a new issue that has been raised to our our attention,” Wilson said on Tuesday night (April 25). “Alexandria’s drinking water has a relatively high action levels in a couple of different areas.”

In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that $27.2 million from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law would go to Virginia to address “emerging contaminants” in drinking water. The manufactured chemicals are known as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), and include industrial and consumer products such as cosmetics, shampoo, certain dental flosses, cleaning products, fire extinguisher fluid, food containers and non-stick cookware.

On March 29, EPA proposed new maximum contaminant level (MCL) goals by targeting a number of PFAS. The proposal was published in the Federal Register and must undergo a 60-to-90 day public comment period.

Wilson urged the EPA to finalize the regulations without delay, and the agency anticipates doing so by the end of the year.

“Alexandria’s waterworks is one of the thousands of systems nationally that currently exceed the MCL (maximum contaminant level) that the EPA has proposed,” he wrote. As detailed by the EPA’s analysis, full implementation of these new standards will prevent tens of thousands of illnesses and deaths.”

Alexandria residents get their water from Virginia American Water Company, which reported last year that the city’s PFAS are actionable under EPAs proposed regulations.

  • Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA): Range detected 2.8 — 4.5/ppt (parts per trillion)
  • Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS): Range detected 3.2 — 4.0/ppt
  • Perfluorohexanesulfonate (PhHxS): Range detected 0.0 — 2.3/ppt
  • Perfluorobutanesulfonic Acid (PFBS): Renge detected 0.0 — 4.7/ppt

The Virginia Department of Health is also advising that public water systems detecting PFAS in drinking water should “take steps to inform customers, undertake additional sampling to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination, and examine steps to limit exposure.”

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