Washington's public drinking fountains to be tested for PFAS contamination

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Drinking fountains across Washington will soon need to be frequently tested for PFAS contamination, due to a new rule adopted by the Washington State Board of Health.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals,' do not break down naturally in the environment, and run the risk of piling up in people's bodies. PFAS are found in many everyday products like nonstick cookware, waterproof clothes, stain-resistant carpets, microwave popcorn bags, food packaging, and most notably in firefighting foam.

The new rule adopted by the Board of Health goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022. Starting then, all public water systems that regularly serve 25 or more people every day must be tested for PFAS. Water systems with PFAS must monitor the levels; anything that exceeds the State Action Level for PFAS must alert their customers. Test results must also be included in annual water quality reports provided to customers, and will be available on the Department of Health website.

"This action by the SBOH is a major milestone in the state’s efforts to address these chemicals known as PFAS," said Environmental Public Health assistant secretary Lauren Jenks. "The testing and ongoing monitoring required by this rule will help us understand the full extent of the problem so we can continue to explore solutions."

State Action Levels for five common PFAS are as follows:

  • PFOA: 10 parts per trillion
  • PFOS: 15 parts per trillion
  • PFNA: 9 parts per trillion
  • PFBS: 345 parts per trillion
  • PFHxS: 65 parts per trillion

The DOH says this is the first time the Board of Health has adopted state drinking water standards into rule, and is now ahead of federal regulators.

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