Protecting drinking water quality remains our #1 priority

For over 130 years, the Tampa Water Department has delivered safe, clean water that meets all federal and state regulatory standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued proposed regulatory standards to manage the risk for a group of man-made chemicals in drinking water called PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). If finalized, the standards will not take effect for several years. 

We want to explain EPA’s recent actions to regulate PFAS exposure and describe the research that the Tampa Water Department has already done, and continues to do, in this area.   

Quick facts about PFAS, a human-made contaminant 

What are PFAS compounds?

PFAS is a large family of compounds that include up to 5,000 chemicals. Since the 1940s, PFAS compounds have been widely used in the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials including Teflon-coated products. They are also used in firefighting foam and in industrial processes. Two prominent PFAS chemical compounds include: 

  1. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA has been used to make Teflon and other similar chemicals. 
  2. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFOS has been used to make stain repellents like Scotchgard™ and fire-fighting foams

One common concern is that PFAS generally breaks down very slowly, meaning that concentrations can accumulate in people, animals, and the environment over time. 

Wheel of products that contain PFAS

How you might have been exposed to PFAS compounds 

The EPA confirms that most people are exposed to these chemicals through a variety of consumer products, such as fast-food containers/wrappers, pizza boxes, personal care products, nonstick cookware, stain-resistant coatings used on carpets, and upholstery, and more. Drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have entered the water supplies. 

Is PFAS still being used in manufacturing?  

Over the years, many companies have chosen to voluntarily halt the production and use of certain PFAS compounds. In fact, most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers in the mid-2000s. However, some of these chemicals are still in use for limited purposes. 

The EPA’s role in establishing drinking water regulations

The EPA regulates the safe levels for hundreds of compounds in drinking water. The EPA developed a PFAS Strategic Roadmap in October 2021 to address the health risks and is in the process of setting maximum contaminant levels for PFAS within the scientifically rigorous framework of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  

Recent actions include: 

  • In June 2022, the EPA issued a health advisory for certain PFAS compounds.  
  • In March 2023, the EPA issued proposed regulatory standards for six PFAS compounds. 

More about the EPA’s proposed standard and what it means to you 

It’s important to keep in mind that the health effects from PFAS exposure is an active area of research and that new information is becoming available on a daily basis. With science, there’s no such thing as zero, so research is important to determine an acceptable risk level for public health. 

The EPA’s proposed regulatory standards

The EPA proposes to regulate PFOA and PFOS at 4 parts per trillion (ppt).  1 ppt - Olympic pool reference

For perspective, one part per trillion is the equivalent of a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or one second in 32,000 years. In other words, it’s a very, very small amount. 

The other four PFAS compounds include: 

  • Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA) or Gen X,  
  • Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), 
  • Perfluorohexanesulphonic acid (PFHxS), and  
  • Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS). 

The proposed maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are so low that they are just barely within the detection level that scientific instruments can currently measure. The levels listed on these proposed standards are not final and may ultimately change. 

What are the levels in Tampa’s water? 

The Tampa Water Department is currently monitoring 29 different PFAS compounds and 1 metal in compliance with EPA monitoring regulations. We will be conducting tests throughout 2023 as part of our participation in the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR). Results will be posted on a quarterly basis and will be available online

The results of the monitoring we are doing, along with monitoring from thousands of other water utilities, will be used to help determine the final MCLs.   

Next Steps after a Proposed Regulation 

The EPA’s announcement of the proposed regulation is the first step. The EPA is requesting public comment for the next 60 days and expects to finalize the rule by late 2023 or early 2024. Then, public water utilities across the U.S. will have several years to implement any standards to comply with the regulation. 

Below is a graphic that shows this monitoring and regulatory schedule. 

Timeline of EPA Drinking Water Regulations for PFAS

What is the Tampa Water Department doing about PFAS?  

Many water utilities, including our scientists at the Tampa Water Department Water Quality Lab, are conducting research to determine the levels of PFAS in our water and how well various treatment options can reduce levels. 

In addition to monitoring, we have been exploring treatment processes that can remove PFAS and other contaminants. Ion exchange, a best available technology listed by EPA, will be added in the next few years.