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"Dark Waters" Movie & PFAS Response

November 21, 2019

For those of us in the public water utility industry, we understand that the movie Dark Waters has the potential to cause alarm in our communities. The drama tells the true story of a lawyer’s fight to expose chemical company DuPont’s direct contamination of local groundwater wells in Parkersburg, West Virginia, in the early 1990s. Following a 20-year battle, Dupont settled a class-action suit with 80,000 plaintiffs in six water districts.

The chemical at the forefront of the movie is called PFOA, short for perfluorooctanoic acid. It was used by Dupont to manufacture Teflon from the 1950s until 2013. In the Dark Waters story, residents’ exposure to high levels of PFOA was a direct result of Dupont’s hazardous waste disposal process and the subsequent contamination of the area’s groundwater. However, it is important to note that drinking water is not the leading cause of public exposure to these toxic chemicals. Instead, it is from the wide variety of consumer products we use that are water- or stain-resistant.

PFOA is but one of a large class of compounds collectively known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Although PFOA is no longer used, over 3,000 other PFAS compounds may be found in cosmetics, fabric softeners, fast food containers, paint, Scotch Guard, and Gore-Tex. Because of their long half-life in the environment and human body, they are known as “forever-chemicals”. Many studies show that very minute levels of these chemicals are present in people’s blood all around the world. Unfortunately, we cannot point to a single source for the exposure.

Although there are currently no enforceable federal or state regulations, MPW has been voluntarily monitoring for PFAS compounds since 2017. The results are published each year in our annual Consumer Confidence Report (see page 4 of 2018 Consumer Confidence Report). As you will see, the levels detected fall well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory Level. We are also actively involved with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Drinking Water Technical Advisory Committee and have commented on the proposed Strategy to Assess the Impact of Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Drinking Water in South Carolina. Additionally, we are in contact with the South Carolina Water Utility Council and the American Water Works Association concerning federal regulatory rulemaking about PFAS.

While our PFAS level test results continue to provide good news, it does not mean the matter is settled for MPW. In our commitment to protecting public health, we will continue to partner with our state regulators and industry leaders to call for greater protection of our source waters. We encourage all MPW customers to learn more about PFAS compounds. As your public water utility, we promise to vigilantly monitor for PFAS and continuously expand our knowledge of the compound.

For more information on PFAS:

AWWA’s PFAS Resource web page

SCDHEC PFAS in Drinking Water Strategy


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