So far, the state has detected little or no toxic PFAS chemicals in Indiana's smaller drinking water utilities. That’s according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s preliminary testing data from 24 smaller water utilities.
PFAS is a human-made chemical found in everything from carpets, to fast food wrappers, to firefighting foams on military bases — like Grissom Air Reserve Base near Kokomo. Exposure to them has been linked to cancer, problems with the immune system, and developmental issues in children.
Of the drinking water utilities the state tested, only two had detectable levels of PFAS in their treated water — Morgan County Rural Water Corporation and the city of Charlestown, served by Indiana American Water — and those levels were low.
Hartford City and Aurora had some PFAS chemicals in their raw water, but no detectable levels in the water that gets delivered to residents — which suggests treatment might be working.
All of the state's results were below the Environmental Protection Agency's suggested health advisory levels. Right now, the EPA doesn't regulate PFAS, though the agency announced plans to regulate two kinds of PFAS in drinking water in October.
Jackie MacDonald Gibson chairs Indiana University's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and researches PFAS in rural water.
“It is very good news. Yeah, very good news. The levels are very low. I was surprised actually not to see more of the kind of legacy PFASs," she said.
MacDonald Gibson said, keep in mind, many of these water utilities are in the country and may be farther away from industrial sources of PFAS.
“But it is comforting to know anyway, in these smaller utilities — which are less equipped to handle any problems with PFAS than larger utilities — that these levels are low," she said.
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In an email statement, IDEM said utilities that did have detectable PFAS should monitor their treated water results to make sure they stay below those EPA health advisory levels.
IDEM plans to test the drinking water at more utilities across the state through May 2023.
In Indiana American Water's own test results in 2020, PFAS was detected in: greater Gary area, Terre Haute, Johnson County, Charlestown, Farmersburg, Georgetown, Jeffersonville, Mooresville, and Newburgh. All IAW's results were also below the EPA health advisory levels for the two PFAS sampled — PFOS and PFOA.
MacDonald Gibson said the four utilities where IDEM detected PFAS have levels that are low enough that she would personally feel safe drinking water from them. But residents who are concerned can filter out many PFAS using a granular activated carbon filter for their refrigerator or under their sink. There are also several pitcher water filters on the market that use granular activated carbon.
American Water has installed granular activated carbon systems to remove PFAS at five of its locations around the country and is researching new ways to remove the chemicals.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.