SCV Water welcomes federal help with PFAS costs  

Construction workers drill into the soil to build a new water treatment facility next to the William S. Hart Pony Baseball & Softball field in the Santa Clara River wash Monday afternoon in this 2019 Signal file photo. Cory Rubin/The Signal
Construction workers drill into the soil to build a new water treatment facility next to the William S. Hart Pony Baseball & Softball field in the Santa Clara River wash Monday afternoon in this 2019 Signal file photo. Cory Rubin/The Signal

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday a new “legally enforceable” standard for “forever chemicals” that have plagued the Santa Clarita Valley’s water supply for decades. 

It was not immediately clear how the announcement of a federal standard and $1 billion to support the standard would impact the yearslong effort underway by Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency officials, who already have spent tens of millions of dollars as part of a multiyear plan to remove PFAS, or  per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, from local drinking wells. 

Local officials, who are currently battling attorneys for The Whittaker Corp. over a decades-old cleanup effort involving volatice organic compounds, perchlorate and PFAS contamination that’s cost tens of millions of dollars to date, said they’ve pursued a number of means in order to eliminate the contaminants from the local supply and welcome the federal support to pay for the cost-intensive efforts. 

PFAS are manmade chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s, according to the EPA. They’re in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, firefighting foams and products that resist grease, water and oil. 

The substances are known as forever chemicals because most PFAS (which include PFOA and PFOS) do not break down, so they remain in the environment, according to the EPA. 

In an embargoed announcement Tuesday, senior White House officials addressed the media to share how the plans and investment were part of President Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot.”  

The EPA estimates that about 6% to 10% of the 66,000 public drinking water systems subject to this rule may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet these new standards. All public water systems have three years to complete their initial monitoring for these chemicals. 

“This new standard is an important step toward advancing the Biden Cancer Moonshot goal of reducing the cancer death rate by at least half by 2047 and preventing more than 4 million cancer deaths,” according to a statement from Danielle Carnival, deputy assistant to the president for the Cancer Moonshot, “and stopping cancer before it starts by protecting communities from known risks associated with exposure to PFAS and other contaminants, including kidney and testicular cancers and more.”  

Legal actions 

The first stage of the plan announced by EPA Administrator Michael Regan called for more testing, which SCV Water has been working on for years.  

In fact, SCV Water announced last week that Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, secured $2.1 million that will help support the agency’s S Wells PFAS Treatment and Disinfection Facilities project.  

Regan did not address a question on how the administration’s announcement might impact the class action suits facing PFAS manufacturers such as Dupont. 

“I’ll let the settlements speak for themselves,” he said in a group call with the media Tuesday. “What I can say is when you look at the trajectory we’re on, this administration, this agency is taking action, rowing in the same direction that you’re seeing the courts make in some of these decisions around the settlements.”  

SCV Water officials have known about and have been working on PFAS for some time, with years of lawsuits, testing and subsequent cleanup efforts under their belt. 

In December, SCV Water voted to stay in a PFAS lawsuit against 3M and Dupont that was filed in 2020. Water officials stated the upside that being “first in line” in terms of the settlements for this suit means the agency could recoup about $25 million to help pay for the removal of PFAS.  

There’s also been speculation that settlements could bankrupt the liable entities, which was a factor in the local decision and makes the potential for federal support “most welcome” to officials.  

In a separate case, SCV Water officials are still waiting for a ruling over an appeal by The Whittaker Corp., which has been ordered to pay more than $69 million to date over PFAS-removal costs. SCV Water is seeking more for ongoing costs, and Whittaker is challenging the previous award as well as its liability for ongoing treatment costs.  

SCV Water action 

Kevin Strauss, a spokesman for SCV Water, said the agency has expanded its response significantly since the state first issued sampling orders in March 2019.  

“SCV Water has been installing treatment systems on its wells through a multiyear program to meet California drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals,” Strauss wrote in an email. “The new EPA standard will likely impact a few additional wells, and we are working to make sure all wells are in operating compliance with the standards as they come into effect.” 

The undertaking has been an extremely costly one, Strauss said, noting in a previous interview the agency’s capital improvement project to address PFAS removal could run more than $200 million by the time it’s complete, with another $15 million in annual costs. 

Using a task force approach, “SCV Water has completed two projects, serving four wells, with a third project serving two additional wells set to be complete in mid-2024. We expect to award a construction contract on a fourth project in the next month, which will treat three additional wells,” Strauss added. 

The plans expect to address treatment installations on more than two dozen wells by the time they’re complete. 

“This is a very expensive undertaking for our community to underwrite, and SCV Water has been actively seeking state and federal grant funds, as well as participating in a class action, multidistrict litigation against manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, which will recover a portion of the cost,” Strauss said. “However, the announcement of additional federal grant funding is most welcome as this is going to be an ongoing significant expense for our community to bear.” 

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