Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Detected in Drinking Water Supplies Across California
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

EWG’s Science Investigations and Government Affairs Team

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Detected in Drinking Water Supplies Across California

 

Drinking water sources for 74 community water systems serving 7.5 million Californians are contaminated with the highly toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to an Environmental Working Group review of the latest state data.

Very low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver and thyroid disease, and other health problems. All of the detections in California water systems’ sources exceeded 1 part per trillion, or ppt, the safe level recommended by the best independent studies and endorsed by EWG.

More than 40 percent of the systems had at least one sample with a level of total PFAS over 70 ppt, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inadequate lifetime health advisory level for the two most notorious fluorinated chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. In addition to those two compounds, some California water systems detected up to six other PFAS chemicals.

Among the utilities with high maximum detections of PFAS in drinking water sources was the system for the southern part of Camp Pendleton, the sprawling Marine Corps base in San Diego County, where a combined concentration of 820 ppt for seven different PFAS chemicals was measured in a single well in 2017.

More than 578 ppt of eight PFAS chemicals was detected this year in a well of the City of Corona water system, and more than 450 ppt of six PFAS in a well of the California Water Service Company system for Oroville. In 2017, more than 400 ppt of six PFAS was found in a well of the California American Water Company system for Rosemont and other Sacramento suburbs.

See the full list of detections here.

The water systems conducted the tests between 2013, when the EPA ordered one-time nationwide sampling for PFAS, and this year, as the state moves toward establishing its own health advisory levels for the two PFAS compounds covered by the EPA’s advisory. 

EWG’s list shows not the current level of contamination in customers’ tap water, but rather the extent of contamination in drinking water sources identified since 2013. Maximum detection levels reported to the California State Water Board and the EPA are a snapshot of what was in the water when it was tested, not necessarily what is coming out of taps now.

Water systems may have taken contaminated wells offline, blended water from contaminated wells with cleaner sources, or installed water treatment to reduce PFAS levels. For example, Camp Pendleton’s 2017 water quality report stated that after one sample that year exceeded the EPA’s advisory level for PFOA and PFOS, the affected well was shut down.

But mitigation efforts do not make the problem go away. The costs of mitigating high PFAS levels are borne by the utility and often passed on to customers, and systems face challenges finding alternate sources of water when a source is shut down. At a time when clean water supplies in the state are at a high premium, communities all across California are affected by the PFAS contamination crisis.

The earlier EPA-mandated tests had confirmed PFAS contamination in the tap water of 27 California water systems. The new detections reported to the state increase the number of California water systems with confirmed PFAS detections to 74. The water board  recently ordered additional testing for some PFAS in water near airports, landfills and locations where PFAS were previously found.

PFAS contamination has been found in more than 800 communities, military bases, airports and industrial sites nationwide. EWG’s analysis of unreleased EPA-mandated test data estimates that more than 100 million Americans may have PFAS in their drinking water. Because PFAS are “forever chemicals” that never break down once released into the environment, they build up in our blood and organs. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, virtually all Americans have PFAS in their blood.

The EPA has not set a national legal limit for PFAS in drinking water supplies, only the non-enforceable and inadequate lifetime health advisory. Neither has California, despite calls to do so from EWG and more than two dozen other environmental and public health organizations.

The water board has asked the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, or OEHHA, to develop public health goals for PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. The water board says regulations for other PFAS chemicals may be considered later.

While the state works toward developing health benchmarks for PFOA and PFOS, OEHHA has recommended that community water systems inform their customers if the levels of those chemicals exceed health-based notification levels, which it says should be set at “the lowest levels at which PFOA and PFOS can be reliably detected in drinking water.”

OEHHA’s recommendation to report all detections is based on a science review of pancreatic and liver cancer in animals, indicating that a concentration protective from a one-in-one-million cancer risk over a lifetime is at or below 0.1 ppt for PFOA and 0.4 ppt for PFOS. However, the water board set higher notification levels than OEHHA recommended – 5.1 ppt for PFOA and 6.5 ppt for PFOS.

Major sources of contamination are PFAS-based firefighting foams, industrial discharge of PFAS into the air and water, and PFAS in food packaging and other everyday consumer products. Once released into the environment, PFAS chemicals enter our bodies through food and drinking water, among other routes.

Despite the health risks of PFAS, there are no state or federal legal limits on releases of these chemicals into the environment or legal requirements to clean up legacy contamination.

Military and civilian firefighters continue to use PFAS firefighting foams that seep into drinking water supplies. Because these foams have been used for decades, hundreds of military installations are contaminated. Manufacturers continue to discharge PFAS into the air and water. Nearly 500 facilities nationwide are suspected of releases of PFAS chemicals, but these manufacturers are not subject to any environmental or reporting requirements. There is no federal requirement for water utilities to remove PFAS from tap water, or even test for PFAS in water.

Because PFAS have not been designated as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law, PFAS manufacturers are not required to clean up legacy PFAS contamination – even though companies like 3M and DuPont knowingly released PFAS chemicals for decades. Internal company documents show that manufacturers knew of the risks PFAS chemicals posed to their own workers and neighboring communities but failed to tell regulators.

Congress may soon adopt PFAS reform provisions included in the House and Senate versions of a must-pass defense spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020, including provisions to:

  • Quickly end military uses of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging.
  • Reduce industrial discharges of PFAS into drinking water supplies.
  • Remediate sites with the worst PFAS contamination.
  • Expand PFAS monitoring and reporting.

Congress is stepping up because President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have refused to act. Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed a PFAS “action plan” too weak and toothless to address the growing contamination crisis.


System Name, Location

Population

Maximum PFAS Sample
Result (parts per trillion),
Year, Source

PFAS Detected

Detections/

Samples

Camp Pendleton (South)

 

39,400

820.8
2017
Well 330925

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

162/207

City of Corona

155,896

578.4
2019
Well 17a

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

112/228

Cal-Water Service Company, Oroville

9,427

451.8
2019
Well 02-01

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

6/7

California American Water Company – Suburban, Rosemont

111,768

404
2017
Nut Plains

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

40/87

City of Pleasanton

73,067

258.9
2019
Well 08

ADONA, PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

8/16

Zone 7 Water Agency, Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin

40

235.4
2019
Mocho Well 01

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

23/29

California Water Service, Visalia

135,923

225
2014
EP #77: VIS-W-077-01-CL

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

4/88

Santa Clarita Water Division

120,900

197.5
2019
Valley Center Well

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

5/30

Sierra Army Depot, Herlong, Patton Village

1,500

150.5
2018
Well 8 –- Raw

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxS, PFOA

6/8

City of Anaheim

450,000

132.1
2019
Well 046 072

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

27/55

Valencia Water Company

117,251

121.6
2019
Well S-7

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

14/50

Yorba Linda Water District

77,513

119.7
2019
Well 01

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

73/77

City of Orange

138,640

118.3
2019
Well 09

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

17/47

Cal-water Service Company, Chico

100,435

118
2014
EP #127: CH-W-007-04-CL

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

27/123

City of Lathrop

12,427

115
2019
Well 09

PFBS, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

9/16

Serrano Water District, Villa Park

6,641

111
2019
Well 05 011

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

4/4

City of Garden Grove

170,883

110.7
2019
Well 028

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

16/37

East Orange County Water District

3,000

103.3
2019
West Well

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

4/4

California Water Service Company – East Los Angeles

150,446

94.7
2019
Well 38-02

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

10/32

City of Fullerton

138,251

90.9
2019
Well 03a

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS
12
32

 

City of Commerce Water Department

3,828

90.4
2019
Gac Treat For Well 04l Efflu

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

2/2

Atascadero Mutual Water Company

30,332

89.5
2019
Well 05a

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

8/15

Montebello City Water Department

6,962

88.9
2019
Montebello Well 01

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

2/2

Montebello Land & Water Company

32,219

86.4
2019
Well 07

N-EtFOSAA, PFBS, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

18/20

Camp Pendleton (North)

15,600

83.4
2019
Well 620620

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

67/81

Pico Rivera Water Department

39,000

82
2014
EP #26: Well 7 Treated

PFBS, PFHxA, PFOA, PFOS

23/34

Liberty Utilities, Bellflower, Norwalk

72,884

76.9
2019
Well 28-b

PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

7/15

Downey Water Department

111,930

75
2019
Well 02 (old Well 08)

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

5/12

Irvine Ranch Water District

370,000

74.8
2019
Well Opa-1

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

2/32

Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District, Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake, Wildomar

142,264

73.8
2019
Canyon Lake Wtp - Treated

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

7/19

La Habra Heights County Water District

5,379

69
2019
Well 09

PFBS, PFHxA, PFOA, PFOS

3/3

Friendly Acres Mobile Home Park, Red Bluff

75

67.6
2019
Well 01

PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/1

Orchard Dale Water District, La Mirada

22,492

66
2014
EPTDS from Mills

PFOA, PFOS

1/4

Bakman Water Company, Sunnyside

8,866

65.5
2019
Well 07

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

4/6

Rubidoux Community Service District

26,150

63
2019
Well 04 - Old Skotty

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

3/9

Golden State Water Company, Norwalk

44,466

58.9
2019
Imperial Plant - Combined-effl

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

2/13

City of Stockton

171,687

49.8
2019
Well Sss8

PFBS, PFDA, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

2/43

Monterey Park Water Department

62,183

49
2019
Well 05

PFOA, PFOS

4/13

Sacramento Suburban Water District

171,200

49
2019
Well 46 - Jonas/sierra Mills R

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

3/118

Pico Water District

24,100

47
2019
Well 08

PFBS, PFOA, PFOS

5/10

City of Adelanto

31,765

47
2019
Well 04

PFHxS

1/7

City of Santa Ana

329,815

42.8
2019
Well 38

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

2/32

Higuera Apartments, San Luis Obispo

30

40.3
2019
Well 01

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/1

Central Basin Municipal Water District, Los Angeles

0

37.8
2019
Well Cb-1

PFBS, PFOA, PFOS

4/4

California Water Service, Livermore

56,700

37.6
2019
Well 19-01

PFHpA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/19

Ontario Municipal Utilities Company

167,382

33.8
2019
Well 25

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA

1/70

Buena Vista Migrant Center, Watsonville

455

32.9
2019
Well #1

PFBS, PFOA, PFOS

1/1

San Jose Water Company

998,000

26.3
2019
Williams Well 15

PFBS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

47/118

City of Norco

27,160

26
2015
EPTDS from MWD

PFOA

1/14

City of Clovis

103,871

25.4
2019
Well T-06 - Raw

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFOA, PFOS

11/82

South Montebello Irrigation District

9,574

25
2019
Well 05

PFOA, PFOS

3/3

City of San Juan Capistrano

40,000

21
2015
EP #14: NOS

PFOA

1/10

Stonegate Mobile Home Park, Larkfield

100

20.7
2019
Main Well

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/1

City of Sacramento Main

486,189

19
2019
Well 139

PFOA, PFOS

3/23

City of Riverside

303,871

18.6
2019
7th & Chicago - Distribution

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

2/4

Afuera De Chorro Water Company, San Luis Obispo

75

16.3
2019
Well 15

PFBS, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/1

Bellflower Somerset Mutual Water Company

46,000

15
2019
Well 587

PFOS

1/16

Colonial Estates Mobile Home Park, Sacramento

438

13.9
2019
Secondary Well

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

2/2

Keefer Creek Estates Mutual, Chico

95

13.7
2019
Kelsey Drive Well

PFBS, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/2

City of Rialto

48,623

12.1
2019
Rialto Well 05

PFBS, PFHpA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA

1/19

Santa Clara Valley Water District, Santa Clara County

0

11.9
2018
W Campbell Ave - Well B

PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

4/6

San Lorenzo Valley Water District, Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Forest Park

21,145

8.4
2019
Quail Hollow Well 05a - Raw

PFBS, PFOS

1/20

City of Redding

91,207

6.9
2019
Enterprise Well 08

PFHxS, PFOS

2/36

City of Anderson

11,127

6.6
2019
Well 08 -rhyne Well

PFBS, PFOS

1/22

Sacramento County Water Agency – Arden Park Vista

9,841

6.4
2019
Well 02 - Tolenas – Raw

PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/2

Castaic Lake Water Agency, Santa Clarita

0

6
2019
Saugus Well 01

PFHxS, PFOS

1/2

California Water Service – North Garden

24,167

5.5
2019
Well 178-01 - Before Gac (h2s)

PFHxA, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS

1/19

Coachella VWD No. 11, Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach, Salton City

5,442

5.2
2019
Well 8995-

PFBS, PFHxA

1/3

Marina Coast Water District

31,218

5.2
2019
Well 29 (a)

PFHxA

2/15

Glendale Water Department

195,799

3
2019
Gou Blended Effluent From Gran

PFHxA

2/14

Tucker Oaks East Water District, Anderson

105

2.7
2019
Well 01 - Raw

ADONA

1/1

Long Beach Water Department

470,292

2.6
2019
Alamitos Well 08

ADONA

1/19

City of Fresno

522,352

1.1
2019
Well 199 - Raw

PFOS

1/390

DISCLAIMER: This table presents data from the California State Water Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analyzed by EWG. EWG has worked to ensure the accuracy of the information provided. EWG does not accept responsibility for the specific test results reported to the agencies. The source descriptions (Column 3) are taken directly from agency documents.