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Emerging Contaminants & PFAS

We are committed to water quality.

As a leader in the water and wastewater industry, York Water monitors PFAS information, regulatory activity, and scientific developments closely.

This page is regularly updated.

Learn about PFAS and Emerging Contaminants

Emerging Contaminants

Globally, new products and chemicals that aid a wide variety of human activities are created every year. These products may have long term effects that are unknown or unpredictable when they are first created and used.

Scientists are always researching which new chemicals and products may be polluting source waters. “Emerging contaminant” is a broad term. It refers to a product, chemical, or material that, when released into the environment, including onto the ground or into water, through use or disposal, may present a risk to human health or the environment.

A products is considered an emerging contaminant, also called contaminant of emerging concern, if it meets all of these criteria:

  • The potential impacts of the product on ecological or human health are mostly unknown.
  • The product is suspected of presenting a risk to ecological or human health.
  • The product is not yet regulated.

PFAS

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a chemical family of emerging contaminants. They are man-made chemicals that were first introduced in the United States and globally in the 1930s and 1940s. PFAS are used in products because they can repel grease, water, and stains and to resist heat. Manufacturers use PFAS in a wide range of items like non-stick cookware, food packaging, stain-repellants in clothing and carpets, waterproof gear, fire-fighting foams known as AFFF, and many other applications. PFAS persist in the environment and in the human body.

The two most common and studied PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA, are no longer manufactured in the United States. Still, there are no U.S. regulations or restrictions that prevent the import, sale, or use of products that contain PFAS.

A New, Difficult Challenge

The characteristics of PFAS that make them so popular are what make them so difficult to manage. They resist chemical reactions, remain unchanged, travel easily in groundwater, and are chemically stable in extreme conditions.

PFAS compounds are used in so many products that humans come into contact with daily. When they are found to have contaminated the environment, it is almost impossible and very costly to identify or eliminate the sources of contamination.

Research on PFAS is ongoing. The latest research has identified new compounds that are replacing PFAS. Scientists have named them GenX Chemicals. GenX Chemicals are now considered emerging contaminants, while PFAS are not. Because research has identified PFAS as harmful, they have been and will be subject of more research and toxicology studies. They are also now the focus of new and proposed regulations nationwide.

Expanding Knowledge

We support the expansion of knowledge about PFAS and emerging contaminants. This expanding knowledge will help the scientific community  assess public health risks and inform future regulatory decisions.

As emerging contaminants like GenX chemicals are identified, they are added to a contaminant candidate list. The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) uses the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to collect data on contaminants on that list. The results of the UCMR data collection by volunteer entities like York Water, and scientific research provide information about where people are exposed and the levels of exposure. The York Water Company has participated in all UCMR studies thus far. We will continue to participate in future studies. You can read about the US EPAS latest PFAS study, UCMR 5, here.

Known Exposures

It is currently estimated that eighty percent of PFAS exposure is through daily contact with products that surround you, from stain treated carpeting to fast food paper wrappers and cups.

Most legislative discussion about regulating PFAS has centered around contamination of drinking water sources, drinking water treatment, and property contamination and remediation. Very few states have moved to ban the use of PFAS. To date, Pennsylvania has not considered a ban.

The drinking water regulations that are being created in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are essentially a last line of defense to protect public health, as the water suppliers are not the source of these contaminants, but are now being required to treat for them until other protections can be prepared and finalized. Unfortunately, the cost of the is protection will fall upon water supply customers rather than those causing the pollution. Typically, environmental laws place the responsibility and liability to remediate and stop pollution on the sources. Public water suppliers and our customers are being required to remediate at great expense at this time. York Water will continue to update the public regarding any yet to be identified need to enhance treatment for PFAS at any of our water supply facilities.

Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) passed a new rule that establishes safe drinking water standard for PFOS and PFAS. The rule goes into effect in January 2024. You can read more about the PA DEP drinking water rule here.

The Federal Government

The US EPA has also proposed a PFAS rule. This rule is not final, and it is not yet a regulation. You can read more about the US EPA rule here.

If the Federal regulation is finalized, PA DEP will apply whichever rule is most stringent. York Water will comply with the most stringent regulation.

US EPA Study Participation

While drinking water represents only 20% of Americans’ exposure to PFAS, York Water has been closely monitoring scientific developments and regulatory activity regarding PFAS. We first tested our water sources for six different PFAS as part of the US EPA’s voluntary UCMR 3 in 2013. The York Water results reported by the lab were all “Non-Detect” which means the lab did not find any PFAS in the water at levels they could detect with the then-current technology and lab testing.

York Water has conducted additional sampling since 2013. The most recent sampling occurred in 2023. Following the new PA regulation that goes into effect in January 2024, we will collect monitoring samples at regular intervals.

Ongoing Voluntary Participation and Expansion of Monitoring

York Water is slated to participate in the US EPA’s UCMR 5.

UCMR5 expands the number of PFAS chemicals that will be examined. It uses the most current technology and lab testing methods. Despite our historical records that show no PFAS contamination, we are expanding our voluntary PFAS monitoring of all of our water systems.

Beyond the federal studies, York Water maintains a regular PFAS sampling protocol. If these contaminants are detected, we will pursue the source(s) and ensure the water we deliver to our customers is treated to meet the most stringent applicable regulatory standards.

Latest PFAS Regulatory Information