BACKGROUND AND ACTIONS TO ADDRESS PFAS
PFAS chemicals can be found ubiquitously in the environment, with more than 3,000 variations developed for products including food packaging, stain resistant and waterproof fabrics, nonstick cookware and aqueous film forming foam, which is required for some firefighting applications.
Wastewater treatment plants are not original sources of PFAS and do not add or have the capability to remove these chemicals during the treatment process. However, wastewater arriving at the plant contains traces of these chemicals from all of us – from our bodies, our cookware, the dust in our homes, the clothing we wash and even the cosmetics, conditioners and sunscreens we use.
The good news is that background levels of these chemicals are on the decline in humans following a voluntary phase out by U.S. manufactures of several of the most persistent versions. However, concerns remain as these chemicals and their variants continue to make their way into the environment even as state and federal regulators are working to better understand and regulate them.
Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District takes community concerns about PFAS very seriously and, absent clear state and federal guidance, has developed an action plan that builds on the district’s historic success in managing chemicals for which treatment is not feasible. The plan focuses on:
- further advocacy for the development of federal standards;
- additional research including a deeper review of published scientific literature;
- engagement with technical working groups developing common approaches;
- continued independent evaluation of sampling protocols, laboratory methodologies and accreditations related to PFAS;
- sewer use ordinance and industrial permit review;
- pollution prevention efforts involving an expanded number of commercial entities; and
- community engagement work to better understand customer and community concerns, to identify ways in which area residents and businesses may aid in the search for solutions and to share information regarding the district’s efforts.
Taken together, these critical steps support efforts already underway to hold major sources of PFAS accountable, establish consistent, science-based standards and minimize the potential for low concentration contributions from diffuse sources. This approach includes gathering additional information and taking action to minimize the potential for PFAS discharges by using proven adaptive strategies that will protect human health and the environment while maintaining affordability.