The City of Sugar Land is committed to providing its residents with clean, safe drinking water. The drinking water meets all current health and safety guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The EPA sets these guidelines, called the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, as part of its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The list of drinking water contaminants regulated by the EPA and TCEQ evolves over time as rigorous scientific research reveals new concerns.
As part of that process, the EPA released a proposal for the first National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in March 2023. The proposed rules would establish maximum contaminant levels for two individual PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. Four additional PFAS- PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals- would be regulated as a group, using a calculation to determine whether they pose a potential risk.
PFAS are a diverse group of thousands of man-made chemicals used in a wide range of consumer and industrial products since the 1940’s due to their resistance to grease, oil, water, and heat. These qualities allowed them to be applied to nearly any material, to make them water, oil, and stain resistant. PFAS are used in fabrics, carpeting, non-stick pans, cleaning products, paints, personal care products, food-packaging, fire-fighting foams, and other products. While some PFAS have been phased out in the US, they may still be used in imported products, and US manufacturers continue to make and use other PFAS in their place.
Commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS do not easily break down. Studies have shown some types of PFAS to accumulate in the environment and in the bodies of fish, animals, and humans. The widespread use of PFAS and their ability to remain in the environment means that PFAS levels from past and current uses can result in increasing levels of environmental contamination over time.
The EPA and TCEQ have not had drinking water regulations for PFAS in the past. However, some PFAS were included in a previous round of testing under the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR). EPA uses the UCMR to collect data for contaminants that do not have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Every five years, EPA publishes a new UCMR to address a new set of priority unregulated drinking water contaminants. The purpose of monitoring for these contaminants is to assist EPA in determining the occurrence of unregulated contaminants in water systems nationwide and whether future regulation is warranted.
EPA has used PFAS data gathered under its Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) to aid in establishing the proposed regulation for the six PFAS in its March announcement. In 2013, The City’s main system tested for the six PFAS contaminants that were part of UCMR3. PFAS contaminants were not detected in any of the city’s samples at that time.
EPA’s UCMR5 will collect new data on 29 PFAS that is needed to improve EPA’s understanding of the frequency and magnitude at which these chemicals are found in the nation’s drinking water systems. In addition to requiring testing for 23 more PFAS than UCMR3, EPA has expanded the number of water systems required to participate to include all public water systems with a population over 3,300. All four of the City of Sugar Land’s public water systems will be monitoring for PFAS under UCMR5 in 2023.
Currently, EPA does not regulate PFAS in drinking water; however, EPA expects to finalize a regulation by the end of the year. EPA’s proposed drinking water standard sets enforceable limits for six PFAS chemicals which water systems will be required to monitor. Water systems will be required to notify the public and reduce contaminant levels if they are detected above the proposed regulatory standards. Staff is monitoring this process closely and will use the results of this monitoring to determine whether changes to the City’s water treatment processes are needed to continue to protect public health.