Mitigating PFAS is going to be expensive – very expensive. Water systems can seek funds from the companies responsible

June 10, 2024
Addressing PFAS contamination in drinking water will quickly become a costly expenditure to water utilities across the U.S., but there's ways to mitigate the additional cost.

Now that the EPA has finalized the first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standards to protect communities from six widespread PFAS compounds, public water systems will be facing significant implications. According to the new National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, initial monitoring for these PFAS must be completed by 2027 (and followed by ongoing monitoring), and by 2029, systems must mitigate these PFAS if drinking water levels exceed the federal maximum contaminant levels (MCLs).[i]

The costs that will be imposed on drinking water plants affected by PFAS are going to be blistering — and at breakneck speed to boot. These costs include, and are not limited to

  • Initial and ongoing monitoring and testing
  • Consulting engineering services related to piloting and designing treatment systems
  • Mitigation technology piloting
  • Design, purchase and installation of treatment systems
  • Operator training and certification
  • Ongoing operation and maintenance of treatment systems
  • Disposal and/or destruction of PFAS-contaminated filter media
  • Public communication regarding PFAS levels and violations
  • Additional staff needed to manage PFAS response

According to a report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), as many as 7,500 drinking water utilities will need to invest more than $50 billion in new or upgraded PFAS treatment technology over the next 20 years to comply with new PFAS standards, with an additional $3.5 billion needed annually for operating costs.[ii] Most likely, wastewater treatment plants also will eventually be required to play a role, adding further costs to utilities.

The costs to a specific utility will vary greatly depending on its flow rate, the level of PFAS contamination needing treatment, and the technology the plant ultimately deploys. To provide a very rough idea, the cost of a granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment plant can start at around $1 million or more to install, even for a small well, and annual operation and maintenance costs for a single well can start in the five figures. Most water systems, especially those in rural America, simply cannot afford this expense.

Public funds are only a partial solution

To achieve compliance by 2029, water systems will need to tap every available source of funds. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) has earmarked more than $50 billion for investments in the nation’s water infrastructure — however, not all these funds can be used for PFAS mitigation. Only $10 billion is specifically available to address PFAS and other contaminants of emerging concern, while $15 billion is specifically available only for lead pipe remediation. The majority of the remaining $26 billion is allocated to Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, the use of which will be determined by individual states.[iii]

Treatment

Spokane City joins lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers

May 1, 2024
The city submitted a complaint that’s part of a larger lawsuit.
About the Author

Ken Sansone

Ken Sansone, partner at SL Environmental Law Group, advises cities and local government agencies to identify and hold groundwater polluters accountable. Email him at  [email protected].

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