The city will soon be sending notices to all residents about high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, more commonly referred to as PFOA and PFOS.
Dubbed “forever chemicals,” the two are “readily absorbed, but not readily eliminated from the human body,” according to the state’s Water Resources Control Board. Long-term exposure can damage an individual’s immune system, thyroid and liver. It can also cause cancer and harm developing fetuses and infants alike.
A certain level of PFOA and PFOS is acceptable in drinking water, according to the board, but any level of exposure to the chemicals can harm you.
“PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl Substances) is the climate change of toxic chemicals,” said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for the advocacy group Clean Water Action. “They never go away. Virtually all Americans have them in their blood. Babies are born with them. … They’re some of the scariest things I’ve worked on.”
The Center for Disease Control has found PFAS in the blood of 98% of people 12 and older who were tested for the chemicals.
A spokeswoman for the State Water Quality Control Board said consumer-grade water filters are typically capable of filtering out both of the harmful chemicals.
Under the current legislation, local water districts are required to report to the state board if PFOA levels are above 14 parts per trillion. With PFOS, agencies only have to report if it’s above 13 parts per trillion.
But that doesn’t mean consumers would necessarily find out; local water suppliers are required only to inform consumers about the chemicals if combined they reach a threshold of 70 parts per trillion. That’s also when they’re required to turn off the water supply, provided it doesn’t disrupt customers’ service.
In updated guidelines from the State Water Resources Control Board, passed Aug. 23, the agency substantially lowered the threshold to notify both customers and the state.
Beginning Jan. 1, when the new law comes into effect, the acceptable threshold will only be 5.1 parts per trillion for PFOA, and 6.5 parts per trillion for PFOS. Additionally, when agencies notify the state’s governing board about the chemicals, each agency must also notify consumers.
The Pico Rivera Water Department, which the city owns and manages, supplies water to a little more than half its local residents. The state ordered the city to test nine out of its 10 active wells — and all nine had levels exceeding both the new and old thresholds.
On average, its PFOA levels were 15 parts per trillion; its PFOS levels were 36 parts per trillion.
The Pico Water District, which supplies about 45% of all drinking water to the city, also found contaminants in three out of four of its wells, according district Director Mark Grajeda.
PFOA levels ranged from 12 to 15 parts per trillion, although the chemical wasn’t detected at all in the third well.
PFOS levels for the same wells ranged from 16 to 25 parts per trillion; all of the wells had this chemical present.
A very small portion of the city has its water supplied by the San Gabriel Valley Water Company, which was ordered to test five of its wells, but neither chemical was detected.
The Central Basin Municipal Water District wholesales water to many retail districts across southeast Los Angeles County, including Pico Rivera. It was ordered to test two of its wells and both were found to be contaminated with 6.5 parts per trillion of PFOA and 28 parts per trillion of PFOS.
While the state has lowered the threshold for notification, officials haven’t changed yet the standards that determine when an agency must be ordered to stop using a contaminated well as a water source.