| Galesburg Register-Mail
GALESBURG — City officials are working on a plan of action after two water samples collected at its water treatment plant last November and December showed levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, beyond the state of Illinois’ tentative guidance level.
The Illinois and federal EPA have not officially set safety guidelines for how much of the contaminants can be found in water. Here’s what you need to know about the PFAS in Galesburg’s water supply, and what is being done to address them.
What are PFAS?
PFAS have various forms, including PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and other chemicals, with PFOA and PFOS the most extensively produced according to the EPA. The pollutants can be found in food packaging, commercial household products like nonstick cooking products, polishes, waxes, paints and fire-fighting foams, workplace facilities, living organisms and in drinking water. The chemicals break down very slowly in the environment and in the human body, and are known to accumulate over time and lead to adverse health effects.
How did PFAS get in our water?
As for how they made their way into Galesburg’s drinking water, City Public Works Director Wayne Carl says that they must have been introduced into the environment in some way, he expects from the Mississippi aquifer, from which the the city draws water.
“At some point, they were introduced into the Mississippi River waste stream,” he said. “These are not at all occurring naturally in the environment.”
Is it safe to drink Galesburg water?
City officials say the level of PFAS found in Galesburg’s water does not mean that the water is unsafe.
“This is something the United States hasn’t declared a hazardous substance,” Carl said, although this may change by the end of the year.
He noted that PFAS are already in the vast majority of Americans’ blood and have been found in myriad sources. He said while some more hazardous PFAS are present in the water, they are at a low level.
While a lot of states are working on setting a regulatory amount for PFAS, that allowed number will likely be higher than the 2 parts per trillion level that Illinois set as a design guidance level. Carl said equipment now cannot even detect 2 parts per trillion.
“Realistically in my opinion, Illinois will probably be adopting something similar to California, who have a level of 10 parts per trillion right now,” Carl said about the regulations that have not yet been put into place.
Galesburg’s water tested at 17 parts per trillion in November and 12 in December, both well above the draft guidance level of 2 parts per trillion.
What is the health risk?
Concern for PFAS does not come precisely from exposure once to the substance, but from bioaccumulation. The more PFAS someone ingests, the more will remain in their bodies, and they are very difficult…