California Is First State Where Utilities Must Tell Customers if Their Water Is Contaminated by Dangerous Chemicals

Illustration for article titled California Is First State Where Utilities Must Tell Customers if Their Water Is Contaminated by Dangerous Chemicals
Photo: Getty

If you don’t know about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more often referred to as PFAS, you really need to catch up. These manmade chemicals are found in some nonstick cooking gear and even food wrappers—and they last forever. Yet we still don’t fully understand how they affect our health (though many studies have shown enough to know that they’re not good).


On Wednesday, California became the first state in the nation to require water suppliers to notify the public if PFAS is present in the water supply. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced back in February. Now, public water systems—whether that’s in Los Angeles or up north Mendocino—will be responsible for monitoring their systems for these chemicals and letting customers know within 30 days if they find an amount above a threshold of 70 parts per trillion in the U.S. That’s what the Environmental Protection Agency essentially deems a safe level of PFAS, though Harvard School of Public Health has argued that’s anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times too high. 

“This is a good first step,” Garcia told the Desert Sun. “I want to make sure we’re testing all the wells and that we understand the scope of the problem and then clean it up.”

The new law requires water providers to give updates on PFAS contaminated water to residents via mail, email, in their local newspaper, or on Facebook. That’s because the public should know if it’s in their drinking water. PFAS has been linked to immune system dysfunctions and hormonal changes. These chemicals may even increase a person’s risk of cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump is doing little to protect public health from these chemicals, so states have been taking charge. Michigan has been dealing with the fallout of PFAS contamination in its drinking water supplies. Since March, the state has been working to test its water supplies to first identify what water systems may be compromised. The plan is to clean it all up. However, the state knew even back in 2012 that PFAS was a problem, yet it failed to act, according to MLive.

There are 48 other states dealing with PFAS issues as well, according to data from the Environmental Working Group. Even U.S. military bases have discovered their water supplies are contaminated.


California is taking the extraordinary step of placing this monitoring responsibility on water utilities. The utilities weren’t all that happy because testing for these chemicals is difficult, according to the Desert Sun, but too bad. Public health wins.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

The title needs tweaking. The story sort of explains the scenario.

Not to be a regulatory affairs dork (aka reg head), but it’s not like the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), or hell, maybe even the Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), etc, haven’t required reporting of chemicals in drinking water.

For example, every resident receiving tap water from a regulated water supply entity, be it municipality owned or a public private partnership, should have access to water quality data on reportable chemicals and concentrations of reportable chemicals in drinking water. Residents usually get a yearly report in the mail.

What appears to be unique with California with PFAS chemicals in water supply is that the state decided to add that to the list of other previously listed chemicals, with or without federal authority or guidance. Whether to list PFAS chemicals and assign a federal MCL (maximum concentration limit) is an ongoing debate in congress and elsewhere.

This kind of puts California in a trickbag, since there isn’t a federal level MCL. Harvard can have all the opinions it wants, but it’s the state of California administering the guidance and taking on responsibility. 

Regulatory affairs - before it’s too late.

Trump’s admin are doing their damndest to gut the administrative state that administers regulations. They’re doing an excellent job at it.