The intake pumps that once drew 6 million gallons of water a day from the Oostanaula River now sit mostly dormant in the northwestern Georgia city of Rome.
Local officials contend that years of contamination miles upstream sent toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, into Rome’s water supply, rendering it potentially dangerous for the city’s roughly 37,000 residents. A water source switch from the Oostanaula and added treatment have reduced the traces of the chemicals running through residents’ taps, but they have not eliminated PFAS from the community’s water supply.
Test results that found contamination in Rome have echoed in communities across the country as researchers and regulators grapple with concerns over the implications of consuming the ubiquitous chemicals. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is accelerating the debate. In June, the EPA issued new advisories on PFAS in drinking water that slash the level that regulators consider safe for four chemicals in the family, including two of the most common, PFOA and PFOS.
The EPA health advisories are not legally enforceable. But the agency this year is expected to propose new limits on PFAS in public water systems. If those drinking water regulations mirror the EPA’s latest advisories, water system operators nationwide will need to act to address the presence of those chemicals.
“It’s quite an important message,” said Philippe Grandjean, a PFAS expert and an adjunct environmental health professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “This stuff is everywhere.’’