The city of Camas has detected levels of harmful “forever chemicals” in the city’s drinking water system.
In a notice sent to Camas drinking water customers earlier this month, the city said elevated levels of chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) had been found in a city well (Well 13) located south of East First Avenue near Louis Bloch Park in downtown Camas.
The city’s other wells are not close to exceeding recommended PFAS levels, the city’s communications director added.
Known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and can build up in the bodies of humans and animals, including many freshwater fish found in lakes and rivers. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, high levels of PFAS have been linked to liver and kidney disease, a decreased vaccine response in children, fetal complications, an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant people, high cholesterol and an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.
PFAS testing on Well 13 was conducted in April 2022 and again in December 2022, and showed readings of 25 parts per trillion (PPT) and 17 PPT — above the state’s action level of 15 PPT — for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a colorless chemical once used to make products resistant to stains, grease, soil and water and one of five PFAS the state is monitoring.
PFOS has not been manufactured in the U.S. since the early 2000s, but may still be used on products imported from other countries.
“Exposure to PFOS in the United States remains possible due to its legacy uses, existing and legacy uses on imported goods, degradation of precursors, and extremely high persistence in the environment and the human body,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated in 2016, adding that “PFOS was detected in blood serum in up to 99% of the U.S. general population between 1999 and 2012; however, the levels of PFOS in blood have been decreasing since U.S. companies began to phase out production.”
The EPA noted that water contamination by PFOS is usually connected to releases from “manufacturing sites, industrial sites, fire/crash training areas, and industrial or municipal waste sites where products are disposed of or applied.”
The city of Camas’ communications director, Bryan Rachal, told The Post-Record this week that determining the exact source of the PFOS in Well 13 is “extremely hard to do” and noted that, although some jurisdictions have found elevated PFAS levels in water sources near military bases or certain manufacturing sites, there is no obvious contamination source near Well 13.
“We don’t know why that well was testing higher,” he said.
Well goes offline; city seeks long-term solution
The city took Well 13 offline after discovering the elevated PFAS levels, and city staff are researching possible long-term solutions.
“As far as the city is concerned, our water is safe for consumption right now,” Rachal said, adding that Camas leaders are taking steps to address the PFAS levels in the water.
“It will be an issue other cities will be dealing with,” Rachal added, noting that he expects other Clark County jurisdictions that did not volunteer to conduct early testing may soon find themselves in similar predicaments.
“And it isn’t just Washington,” added Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall. “The EPA is aware of it, but doesn’t have any formal requirements for PFAS … there are 10 to 12 states trying to get ahead of PFAS discussions.”
Even with the elevated PFAS levels, the city was not actually required to shut down the impacted well.
“The Department of Health is not telling (us), ‘You either have to treat it or shut it down,” Wall said. “It’s very much a testing and research phase.”
Wall and Rachal — along with the Camas Utilities Manager Rob Charles — told The Post-Record this week that they believe the city has done everything it can to deal with the elevated PFAS levels in Well 13.
“From the city’s standpoint, we’re on top of it, and we’re looking at ways we can solve this thing,” Rachal said. “We understand the concern, and if we need to turn the well back on, we want to be as transparent as possible.”
While the city’s water supply is fine without Well 13 during the winter months, Wall and Charles said the city may need to bring the impacted well back online during peak-usage days in the summer.
“In the wintertime, when we use less water, it’s not that big of a deal,” Charles said. “In the summertime … when our demand goes higher … that’s when we have to watch it closely and when we may need to turn Well 13 on.”
Rachal said city staff are researching possible solutions, including some sort of filtration system that would help pull the “forever chemicals” from the Well 13 water flowing into the rest of the city’s drinking water system.
“We are looking at treatment options,” Rachal said. “Possibly a carbon filter to remove the PFAS.”
The communications director said Charles was scheduled to meet with the consultants soon and report back to city leaders about possible long-term solutions.
Wall said implementing a solution will take money and time.
“Long-term options for filtration systems … are not cheap,” he said. “We just don’t yet know the scope (of the solution or its costs).”
The city is working with the Washington Department of Health to “determine next steps,” Rachal added, and will continue to share updates and information with the city’s water customers. Likewise, Camas staff also are working with staff from the city of Vancouver and Clark County to address how the jurisdictions might be able to work to address the topic of these “forever chemicals.”
“There is nothing the city could have done to prevent the occurrence of PFAS in our drinking water,” Rachal noted on the city’s website. “However, we want to prevent potential future impacts from occurring to the extent possible.” possible
State urges pregnant, breastfeeding and formula-feeding residents to use ‘alternative drinking water source’ or install home water treatment system
In the literature the city of Camas sent to its water users, it noted that the Washington Department of Health (DOH) has recommendations for pregnant or breastfeeding water users and those who use tap water to mix with their infant’s formula: “Use an alternative source for drinking or mixing infant formula or install a home water treatment (system) such as reverse osmosis or an activated carbon filter that is certified to lower the levels of PFAS in your water.”
To learn more about these recommendations, visit doh.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2022-10/331-699.pdf.
The state’s DOH has noted that “people in communities with local PFAS contamination in their drinking water or food often have higher exposure and may be more likely to have health impacts,” and has said “children ages 0 to 5 years, and people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding are considered to be more vulnerable to health impacts from these chemicals.”
To reduce exposure to “forever chemicals,” the Washington DOH recommends people install filters to remove PFAS from tap or well water; follow drinking water and fishing advisories; and try to avoid products known to contain PFAS. To see a list of PFAS-free consumer products, visit PFAS Central, a project of the Green Science Policy Institute, at pfascentral.org/pfas-free-products/.