As EPA cracks down on ‘forever chemicals,’ Missouri to start testing drinking water

The EPA plans to set limits for PFAS in drinking water next year and test water systems across the country over the coming years

By: - October 29, 2021 9:00 am

EPA Administrator Michael Regan unveiled the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap at NC State University on Oct. 18, 2021 (Lisa Sorg/NC Policy Watch).

Missouri could start testing small drinking water systems for harmful “forever chemicals” by the end of the year as the federal government ramps up its own regulatory efforts. 

Missouri Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Susan Bloomer said the agency would start sampling drinking water systems serving fewer than 3,300 under a grant from EPA and finish ahead of the federal agency’s plan to sample larger systems.

The family of ubiquitous chemicals, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been used in manufacturing since the 1940s and are commonly used in food wrappers, stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, cosmetics and foams used by firefighters.

That widespread usage has allowed PFAS to contaminate drinking water in some places and expose residents to the chemicals, which are linked to reduced kidney function, thyroid disorders and various pregnancy disorders, including low birth weight.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency released a roadmap to rein in PFAS contamination. The plan includes “steps to control PFAS at its sources, hold polluters accountable, ensure science-based decision making and address the impacts on disadvantaged communities,” according to a release from the White House. 

“For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a press release. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals.

The roadmap sets out timelines to regulate PFAS in drinking water, designate certain chemicals as hazardous substances, increase monitoring and assess toxicity for certain chemicals.

Under the roadmap, all large drinking water systems will be tested for PFAS between 2023 and 2025. EPA is expected next year to set limits on PFAS in drinking water, much like it does for other contaminants, and require monitoring for the chemicals. 

DNR previously tested for PFAS in water systems serving more than 10,000 people between 2013 and 2015, Bloomer said. It detected none. 

She said in 2016, Missouri University of Science and Technology assessed 15 water systems potentially in proximity to businesses using PFAS and found only low levels of the chemical at most of the sites. 

A separate analysis by DNR and the U.S. Department of Defense identified PFAS contamination in Ozark Steel Fabricators’ well in Farmington. It had to be abandoned and the water supply replaced by the Farmington municipal provider.

“This roadmap will not solve our PFAS challenges overnight,” Regan said in an intro to the plan. “But it will turn the tide by harnessing the collective resources and authority across federal, Tribal, state, and local governments to empower meaningful action now.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.