City of Boise officials say EPA advisory on so-called ‘forever chemicals’ won’t impact work to start water recycling program

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The City of Boise says a new advisory from the Environmental Protection Agency won’t impact its work to get a new water recycling program off the ground.

Back in 2020, an analysis of the wastewater in the City of Boise searched its wastewater for 18 types of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) with 11 types coming back undetectable.

The seven types found in the water were below the old EPA advisory level of 70 nanograms per liter. Advisories are non-binding and are not regulations, only guidelines for states to follow to determine what is safe. These regulations also specifically focus on drinking water, not wastewater, making them unrelated to any city operations.

Earlier this summer, the EPA released new health advisory levels for the PFAS and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) family of chemicals that are much lower than previous guidance. This new advisory says the chemicals, which are commonly found in non-stick cookware and stain repellents, pose health risks even at very low and undetectable levels in drinking water.

Some Boise residents raised concerns about the city’s plans for recycling wastewater in the coming decades to respond to climate change. At public hearings on the city’s water renewal utility plan in 2020, residents testified that they were concerned about these ‘forever chemicals’ in wastewater entering the region’s drinking water supply through various water recycling projects. The city says it conducted its extensive water testing in response to these concerns. 

What do these new levels mean for Boise’s Department of Water Renewal? 

These new EPA health advisories might be a sharp drop in what is considered safe, but city spokesman Maria Weeg and environmental regulators say they are for drinking water, not wastewater effluent like the city tested in 2020. 

“The City of Boise is responsible for testing wastewater, not our drinking water,” Weeg said, “The EPA drinking water health advisories should not be compared against the wastewater effluent.”

City spokesperson Colin Hickman said the Department of Water Renewal is in the process of conducting a pilot study to develop treatment plans to remove a variety of pollutants from wastewater before it is recycled, including those in the PFAS family. This includes four advanced treatment technologies, two of which specifically target PFAS. 

“The PFAS plan will include background and technology information, updated PFAS sampling plan, data from pilot testing, and descriptions of how the EPA Health Advisory Levels impact future recycled water planning decisions,” Hickman said. 

Hickman also said that the City of Boise has been proactive in sampling water renewal facilities, the river, and other water bodies to understand the locations of PFAS constituents and make informed decisions. 

Veolia: PFAS detected at trace or nondetectable levels in drinking water

Ada County’s privately-owned water company says it has been comprehensively, and voluntarily, testing for PFAS in the region’s drinking water for two years. 

Even though the new EPA advisory levels on PFAS don’t affect the City of Boise, Veolia, a French-owned drinking water company formerly known as Suez, will be impacted by any coming rule changes from the EPA on safe PFAS levels. Veolia Vice President for Utility Communications Steven Goudsmith said the company reported trace to non-detectable levels of PFAS in their drinking water wells.

“Veolia continues to take comprehensive, prudent, and proactive steps to meet or surpass enforceable standards set for public drinking water supplies or wastewater systems and invest considerable resources to introduce effective, emerging technology that addresses changing regulatory standards set by health officials,” he wrote in an email. 

Right now, the company is not required to submit PFAS levels and testing to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality because the chemicals are not specifically regulated in Idaho and the federal government does not mandate the chemical to be regulated beyond advisories offering guidance.

What does this mean for Idaho?

Tyler Fortunati, the Drinking Water Bureau Chief for DEQ explained that Idaho is a federal minimum state, meaning that Idaho is no more stringent with environmental regulations than the federal government. While states like Missouri have already set a maximum containment level lower than the current 70 nanograms per liter the EPA rules mandate, Idaho has not. 

The new health advisories put out by the EPA are just that, advisory. They signal future action from the EPA to regulate the chemicals and lower the acceptable levels down the road, but for now the law still says 70 nanograms per liter is the EPA standard. A lower requirement for PFAS could be coming soon, which would be called a “maximum containment level.”

“There is no regulated level (for PFAS) in the state of Idaho and there probably will not be until (the EPA sets) an enforceable maximum containment level,” Fortunati said, “Then we would go through the process to incorporate the new rule into our drinking water rules.” 

Morgan McDonough - BoiseDev Intern
Morgan McDonough - BoiseDev Intern
Morgan McDonough is an intern for BoiseDev. She is a University of Idaho student studying journalism and advertising.

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