A proposal calling for further research, investigation, testing and advocacy for funding related to polyfluorinated alkyl substances in drinking water was passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The motion was proposed by 4th District Supervisor Janice Hahn, who said in a statement on Tuesday that she wanted to take on this issue after learning of a study on PFAS that said 45% of drinking water in the United States contains them and that PFAS are possibly more common in Southern California.
“These chemicals don’t naturally break down in the environment and can build up in our bodies and cause serious health problems,” Hahn said in a press release following the proposal’s approval. “We need to know whether they are in our drinking water and at what concentrations so we can start putting together a plan to get them out.”
PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals,” do not degrade naturally and have been linked to a wide swath of health problems such as immune disorders and certain types of cancers.
While no direct link has ever been proven locally, PFAS have also been linked to foam used by fire departments to combat wildfires. PFAS can also be found in products used by consumers and industry such as carpets, nonstick cookware and food packaging.
Hahn’s motion instructs the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the L.A. County Department of Public Works and the L.A. County Chief Sustainability Office to work together to create a report to be delivered within 90 days. The report will need to include information about which of the county’s 203 water systems test for PFAS. It will also need to include what can be done to ensure more testing and how to secure more state and federal funding.
“One challenge we face is that our drinking water in L.A. County is managed by over 200 separate water systems – some of whom are likely testing for these chemicals and some of whom are likely not,” Hahn’s statement said. “That is why this motion is so important so that we can begin collecting this information.”
The proposal also requires a more detailed report due in 120 days that will need to include an analysis of state PFAS regulations that are “currently in the works” and determine if there are any “gaps” in the proposed regulations.
PFAS in Santa Clarita
The Santa Clarita Valley has a long history with PFAS.
In 2020, the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency filed a lawsuit against multiple companies over water contamination, alleging toxic chemicals from products manufactured by those named in the case were discharged into the environment.
Raytheon Technologies, Chemours, DuPont and 3M Co. are among dozens named in the lawsuit “for their roles in introducing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) into the water supply in Santa Clarita,” according to SCV Water in a news release.
This was after the water agency announced in January 2020 that 66% of its wells, from Sand Canyon to Castaic, were found to have contained PFAS. In December 2020, the agency began to receive water from one of California’s first facilities that restore groundwater affected by PFAS — a $4 million project located adjacent to the William S. Hart Pony Baseball and Softball park that treats up to 6,250 gallons of water per minute.
Since then, the SCV Water Agency acquired new PFAS testing equipment and was honored by the American Public Works Association for its treatment project. This year, the agency received a $5 million grant from the Bureau of Reclamation — with support from Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita.
Plans for a new $16 million restoration plant are underway and it is expected to begin construction in January. The water agency is getting $5 million from the federal government, which is expected to cover almost one-third of the cost of the facility, with the rest of the funds — a little over $11.99 million — being covered by the SCV Water Agency.
In May, SCV Water released its annual report on water quality. The testing sample from the region referred to on the report as the Santa Clarita Water Division service area had the highest average sampling level of PFAs — a level well below the maximum contaminant level but above the level identified as the Public Health Goal.
The latest report indicates a decline in the maximum detected level, but the average levels have increased, according to reports from the last three years, for the SCWD area. That service area provides water to a portion of the city of Santa Clarita and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, including Saugus, Canyon Country and Newhall, with 83% of that water being imported water and 17% local.