Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily biodegrade, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are drawing increased scrutiny from health agencies, utilities and the public for their presence in drinking water and their effects on human and environmental health. To help mitigate the issue, Black & Veatch has been selected by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) to lead a project to develop national cost models for compliance with the first national drinking water standard for PFAS treatment in the United States, a policy that will impact each of the more than 140,000 public water systems.
Stable and highly resistant to heat, oil and water, PFAS are used in products from firefighting to food packaging to consumer goods. The characteristics that make them effective in products also allow them to migrate easily through soil and water and persist in the environment. According to Black & Veatch’s 2020 Strategic Directions: Water Report survey, PFAS have joined nitrates/nitrites and lead as the contaminants of greatest concern to drinking water, with nearly half of survey respondents naming PFAS as the chief contaminant, followed by nitrate and nitrite (34 percent) and lead (26 percent).
To address the issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined it will regulate perfluorooctanioic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and will work in the coming years to determine a maximum contaminant limit. A requirement of the regulatory development process is for the EPA to estimate costs for utilities to comply with the regulation.
The AWWA, a key stakeholder, will use the independent cost analysis supplied by Black & Veatch to provide valuable input to the EPA on the means and associated costs for treatment and varying scenarios of the coming regulation. The project, known as WITAF 056, will be funded by the Water Industry Technical Action Fund (WITAF), which is managed by the AWWA’s Water Utility Council to support projects, studies, analyses, reports and presentations in support of the organization’s legislative and regulatory agenda.
“The cost models developed under WITAF 056 will provide critical support to AWWA’s engagement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress on the vast impacts of potential PFAS regulations,” said Tracy Mehan, Executive Director of Government Affairs for AWWA.
“Dealing with certain contaminants — some as a result of evolving regulations — is proving increasingly challenging,” said Dustin Mobley, Drinking Water PFAS Treatment Leader with Black & Veatch’s water business. “The coming regulation has the potential to affect thousands of drinking water utilities across the country, so this is an exciting project to help the drinking water industry understand the financial impacts on how it can treat drinking water for PFAS.”
Black & Veatch will develop an interactive national cost modeling tool that programmatically evaluates each public water supplier. The tool will generate a database of the most probable capital and operating costs for each PWS and bring flexibility for data-driven responses to EPA cost assessments.
“This project will bring together data and help ensure final PFAS drinking water regulations are based on sound cost estimates that accurately reflect the costs utilities will incur as a result of the new regulations,” Mobley added.