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EPA regs affect Cherokee and other metro districts

On July 21, 2023, Cherokee Metropolitan District voluntarily agreed to have its drinking water tested for per-polyfluoroalkyl compounds, known as PFAS — a wide variety of compounds found in many different consumer, commercial and industrial products, including firefighting foam.

The PFAS compounds could negatively impact human health, according to the Environmental Protective Agency. One of the most common ways for humans to be exposed to PFAS is through drinking water.

When the Cherokee district test was conducted a year ago, the EPA had not adopted a standard for PFAS. The proposed maximum level of PFAS at that time was four parts per trillion. Cherokee water tested for more than double the proposed standard.

On April 10 of this year, the proposed standard became law. The EPA issued the first ever legally enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water, with maximum contaminate levels of PFAS at four parts per trillion.

According to the new EPA ruling, utilities have three years to complete initial monitoring for PFAS. From then on, they must continue monitoring on a quarterly basis and “implement solutions to reduce regulated PFAS if the levels exceed the MCLs (maximum contaminate levels).”

By 2029, utilities having excessive levels of PFAS must inform the public of the violations and take action to reduce those levels.

The non-compliant utilities will have five years to implement corrective action. Almost $1 million will be available from the federal government for improving water purification systems.

Kevin Brown, water resource engineer with Cherokee Metro District, said Cherokee water is safe to drink. Last October, prior to the PFAS standards becoming law, a notice was sent to Cherokee customers that stated, “People do not need to stop drinking their water as current health advisories are based on a lifetime of study.” The notice also stated that it was not an immediate public health risk, and people can reduce their exposure to PFAS by drinking bottled water treated by reverse osmosis or installing an in-home water filter. Cherokee has since sent out another updated letter about the new regulations from the EPA.

 “We are taking it seriously,” Brown said of the water quality report. He said Cherokee had plans at some point in the future to install a water treatment facility to filter out PFAS. However, he said the present situation has prompted those plans to be moved up to the near future.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, “Human health effects from low level exposure to environmental levels of PFAS are uncertain.” However, the CDC states, “More research is necessary to assess the human health effects of exposure to PFAS.”

”Current scientific research suggests that exposure to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes,” according to the EPA website. Research is ongoing and based on a number of factors, each person will react differently. However, the EPA states that children could be more susceptible. One of the characteristics of PFAS is that many break down slowly and can build up over time in animals, people and the environment.

“We are not alone in this,” Brown said. He said that some utilities in Colorado, including some of the larger ones, did not voluntarily have their water tested. Of those who did test, he said about 100 of them had levels of PFAS over 4.0. He said other utilities across the country could have problems meeting a mandatory PFAS level.

Brown said Cherokee officials thought they did not have this problem because they are upstream from these areas; obviously, the test proved that was not the case.

 When asked how the contaminants got into the water, Brown said, “We are still investigating and testing for the source.”

Many of the residents at the RV park meeting asked to remain anonymous to avoid any repercussions.

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