City responds to federal ‘forever chemicals’ water rule

A Carson City water tank.

A Carson City water tank.

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Carson City does not have a known problem with so-called “forever chemicals” in the domestic water supply, but water utility operators will be complying with new guidelines set by the federal government, city officials told the Appeal.

The guidelines came this spring from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerning per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

“This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new drinking water standards to protect communities from exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals,’” the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection said in an April 12 news release. “This critical rule represents a significant step forward in protecting public health and the environment from the potential risks associated with PFAS contamination.”

Carson City Utility Manager Andy Hummel said, “Under previous rules we have sampled in the past and all tested negative.”

“Note, however, the previous testing requirements were not as stringent as the new requirements under UCMR5,” he said. “USGS also tested private wells and public water sources (ours included) in 2021; that study was released in 2023 and also showed negative results for our area.”

“UCMR” refers to an Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which is a sort of transitional way the federal government monitors potentially harmful substances in water before a final rule takes effect. As Hummel put it: “EPA is gathering data based on this testing to see how big of an issue PFAS is, which will help them establish the final guidelines.”

“Carson City will have to do additional sampling with this new Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule #5 (UCMR5),” he said of the UCMR that began in 2023. “Basically, beginning in December of 2024, we will start quarterly sampling at representative source sites in our system. Starting with the first sampling in 2026, we will start sampling each source in our system. Based on those sample results our compliance schedule moving forward will be set.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS are “a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.”

“Fluoropolymer coatings can be in a variety of products,” said the CDC. “These include clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire. Many PFAS, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are a concern because they: do not break down in the environment, can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources, build up (bioaccumulate) in fish and wildlife. PFAS are found in rivers and lakes and in many types of animals on land and in the water.”

PFAS’ effects on humans need to be further researched, maintained the CDC.

“Human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain,” the CDC said. “Studies of laboratory animals given large amounts of PFAS indicate that some PFAS may affect growth and development. In addition, these animal studies indicate PFAS may affect reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver. Epidemiologic studies on PFAS exposure evaluated several health effects. Descriptions of these studies are available at: More research is necessary to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFAS.”

In announcing the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS, the EPA said it had “evaluated over 120,000 comments submitted by the public on the rule proposal, as well as considered input received during multiple consultations and stakeholder engagement activities held both prior to and following the proposed rule.”

“EPA expects that over many years the final rule will prevent PFAS exposure in drinking water for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses,” the agency said.

The new regulation will set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for the chemicals as measured in water supplies.

“Public water systems must monitor for these PFAS and have three years to complete initial monitoring (by 2027), followed by ongoing compliance monitoring,” according to the EPA. “Water systems must also provide the public with information on the levels of these PFAS in their drinking water beginning in 2027.”

Furthermore, the EPA said: “Public water systems have five years (by 2029) to implement solutions that reduce these PFAS if monitoring shows that drinking water levels exceed these MCLs. Beginning in five years (2029), public water systems that have PFAS in drinking water which violates one or more of these MCLs must take action to reduce levels of these PFAS in their drinking water and must provide notification to the public of the violation.”

When asked if the new regulation is an unfunded mandate, Hummel said, “We have budgeted for increased sampling under the new rule (about $10,000), but it is an unfunded mandate.”

The EPA pointed to funding “newly available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.”

Hummel said the $10,000 for increased sampling came out of the water utility’s operational budget, “which is roughly a 10% increase in our laboratory testing expenses.”

“These tests have to be run through an EPA approved/certified lab, which we have numerous other tests on both the water and wastewater sides that also get sent out for analysis,” he said. “I have not heard anything yet about programs to offset the cost, but I imagine that messaging will start getting pushed out more now that UCMR5 is published.”

The NDEP said up until August, there were no PFAS detected in Nevada drinking water from public utilities or in “the limited number of private wells that have been tested.”

“Research did find PFAS in surface waters and sediments in both the Las Vegas and Reno areas,” according to NDEP. “A paper published in 2021 documented PFAS in six surface water and sediment samples collected along the Las Vegas Wash and in Lake Mead, as well as eight sites along the Truckee River, Lake Tahoe, and Pyramid Lake … Research in 2023 found PFAS to be ‘ubiquitous throughout the surface waters of the Great Basin’ … In 2023, research conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) showed no detection of PFAS in three private wells and ten public water system samples from Nevada. However, testing nationwide indicated that PFAS was likely present in 45% of U.S. drinking water samples.”

More information and links to studies can be found online:


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