UPDATE (6:22 p.m.): Mobile Area Water and Sewer System officials reassured its customers that the water is still safe to drink. Many people in Mobile expressed concern about water safety after MAWSS sent customers a letter alerting them that “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been detected in the drinking water at levels above the new advisories.”
MAWSS Director Bud McCrory spoke first at a Thursday afternoon news conference. McCrory offered details about why the letter was sent and the language contained in the letter, but his primary message was simple: “Our water is safe to drink.”
“I understand the message that was sent, which was an EPA message, alarmed some folks, but I can assure, as I stand before you today, that our water meets all the safest regulatory compliance requirements that have been set before us,” said McCrory.
McCrory said the letter explaining PFAS levels in the water was sent because MAWSS wanted to be transparent about new guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency, which lowered its Health Advisory levels for PFAS in water supplies.
“We have never made this statement, in writing or to anyone, that our [drinking water] is not safe, do not drink our water,” said McCrory. “That is a statement that has never been made by this utility, our water is safe to drink.”
McCrory said Mobile’s water meets and exceeds all regulatory standards. The EPA’s new health advisory standards about PFAS are not part of regulatory standards. So what happened?
“Well, the science and technology changed,” McCrory explained. “The measurement changed.”
He continued, “the EPA realized they could measure lower, so they put these restrictions on. That’s what happened here. Every water utility in the state had to measure this.”
McCrory said Mobile is not alone.
“They [EPA] put these restrictions on, that’s what happened here” said McCrory. “Every water utility in the state had to measure this [PFAS levels].”
“We want to be transparent to our customer base,” said McCrory. “Why, because we want to let them know what is going on.”
Doug Cote, Director Plant Operations, fielded questions. He reiterated McCrory’s message: Mobile water is safe.
Cote talked at length about what exactly per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS are, which WKRG News 5 explained in previous reports. A major point of emphasis in Cote’s opening statement is that PFAS are everywhere and everyone is susceptible to PFAS in their daily lives.
“PFAS is upiqitous, it is everywhere, it is in our products we use daily, it’s in our environment and in our animals,” said Cote. “There are thousands and thousands of chemical compounds that fall under the category of PFAS.”
He said these chemicals are called ‘forever compounds’ and take “many, many years” to degrade because they are water, oil, stain and high temperature resistant. He said there would be several pages of documentation if he were to write out every product that contains PFAS. Anything from stain-resistant carpets to the packaging fast food restaurants use to cosmetics contain PFAS, Cote said.
“As far as cancer goes, there are no water regulations in regard to PFAS effects on cancer, but there are studies ongoing,” said Cote.
Cote went further to explain the EPA’s role in the MAWSS announcement, which shared EPA language with customers. Cote also talked about why the EPA wants this information release.
Cote said the EPA wants this information available so people can educate themselves about PFAS. Cote said the EPA has not advised MAWSS to tell people not to drink the water. Cote said the update from the EPA is an early advisory and he expects more regulations and standards to come.
The EPA has not told people to put a filter on your faucet and not recommended people go to bottled water because the PFAS level in bottled water is not regulated. The EPA recommends people who are concerned to reach out to their doctors. MAWSS has no plans for providing filters for its customers.
“These levels of concentrations are so low or small, that today’s analytical procedures can’t detect or read them,” said Cote. “There is no regulation right now, this is just an advisory.”
“We need to continue to communicate to the public about upcoming developments regarding PFAS,” said Cote. “This is the start of something, not the end, so our obligation to the public is to continue to inform.”
Cote said MAWSS will continue to monitor PFAS regulations and change processes as necessary. He said they need more information from the EPA to see what direction is best to head in.
MAWSS has not identified a “particular point source” for the chemical compound, but thinks it’s a nonpoint source issue. PFAS can be in the air, in the soil, ground water, etc. according to Cote.
“We did not think we had a problem until June 15 when the EPA released these new health advisories,” said Suzie Lindbaum, Regulatory Compliance Officer. “When we tested for PFAS in January and received the highest reading of 2.2 parts per trillion, we were within the limits of 70 parts per trillion.”
MAWSS says every other water utility in the state has tested for PFAS levels since the EPA’s advisory, and MAWSS has some of the lowest levels of the entire state.
MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System will hold a press conference Thursday afternoon after Mobile residents received a mailed notice that “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been detected in the drinking water at levels above the new advisories.”
WKRG News 5 viewers shared their letters from MAWSS and concerns with us Tuesday, July 5. A release on the MAWSS website followed.
At around 2:30 p.m. on July 7, officials with the MAWSS held a press conference for media only. WKRG News 5 will livestream that news conference here and on our Facebook page.