City of Savannah Water Resources Department

The Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized a national primary drinking water rule for a group of manufactured chemicals called Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Savannah Water Resources is preparing to meet these new standards to protect public health.

What Are PFAS and Where Are They Found?

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that do not naturally occur. Since the 1940s PFAS chemicals have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide. PFAS are found in many products, such as nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

Why the Concern for Drinking Water?

Most of our exposure to PFAS chemicals, approximately 90 percent, comes from consumer goods and not drinking water. But through manufacturing and consumer goods, PFAS can travel into the soil, water, and air. Since most PFAS do not break down, scientists detect PFAS chemicals in rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Because of their widespread use and their persistence, scientists find PFAS in blood samples of people and animals. PFAS are also present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment. Some PFAS can build up in people and animals with repeated exposure over time.

What is the New EPA Rule and What Is Savannah Water Resources Doing?

The EPA set standards for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in drinking water at a level of 4 parts per trillion (ppt). These standards, also called maximum contaminant levels (or MCLs) would be calculated on a running annual average of quarterly monitoring data. For perspective, one part per trillion is equal to one second in 32,800 years or 1 drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools. Under the new rule, Savannah will continue to monitor for three years. If samples show that levels of PFAS exceed the new EPA standard, Savannah will make upgrades to our treatment process.

What’s Next?

The EPA’s announcement of the new rule was on April 10, 2024. This action follows years of research, which included learning about the potential health impacts of PFAS at certain levels and how water utilities can manage the risk. The EPA’s goal is to set the regulatory standard at the lowest levels to protect public health considering feasibility and affordability.

Savannah is conducting regular testing and the data will help us better understand the PFAS levels in our source water, Abercorn Creek. Savannah may have to upgrade our treatment process to remove PFAS to the levels in the current EPA rule. In the meantime, you can learn more about your drinking water in the annual Water Quality Report or review the EPA’s PFAS regulation.