The West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) and the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have identified 27 public water systems with detectable levels of select perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds in their finished drinking water.

Of these 27 systems, 19 had detections above at least one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed regulatory standards.

PFAS are chemicals used in thousands of applications throughout the industrial, food, and textile industries and are an ingredient in some firefighting foams, food packaging, cleaning products, and various other household items. They are classified as possible carcinogens and may create other adverse health effects. Exposure to PFAS over a long period of time may lead to negative health effects.

The public water systems in the Ohio Valley that are impacted are: Benwood, Chester, Glen Dale, and Weirton.

Dr. Matthew Christiansen, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, said these chemicals aren’t unique to West Virginia but the state has been ahead of the curve.

Dr. Christiansen said on Wednesday that these numbers are low, early, and preliminary. “These numbers are not enough for us to say whether a treatment facility needs to have treatment or mitigation just based on one measure.”

“These health impacts are not immediate, they cumulate over time and the Bureau for Public Health has not issued any health advisories and we really are ahead of the curve even when thinking about our response relative to other states, ” Dr. Christiansen said.

Dr. Christiansen added, “The water you get from your faucet, has been, and remains, one of the safest water sources out there. It’s purified and quality tested by these heroes, these public servants in your local communities in your public service districts.”

When asked what steps residents could take to mitigate the short or long-term health effects, Dr Christiansen said “These are long-term health impacts. If these were immediate acute threats to people’s health we would be issuing do not consume advisories and other consumption advisories and at this point, we’re not doing so. These are very very low levels and the impact is really something that accumulates over time.”

For individuals that are concerned about their potential exposure, Dr. Christiansen encourages the public to look at the map on the Bureau for Public Health’s website, which has the most updated test numbers.

“If you are in one of these impacted systems you could install a home water filtration system that is under sink or in a refrigerator system that is rated for PFAS and PFAS filtration”, Dr. Christiansen added on what residents can do to help with health impacts.

Gov. Justice recently signed the PFAS Protection Act (HB 3189), which requires the DEP to identify and address PFAS sources in raw-water by developing PFAS action plans, and improves reporting requirements for facilities that use and discharge PFAS. Senate Concurrent Resolution 46, which passed during the 2020 legislative session, requested DHHR and DEP propose and initiate a public source water supply study plan.

West Virginia will receive $18.9 million in federal funding over two years to address emerging contaminants like PFAS in drinking water. That funding can be used for a wide-range of activities, including research and testing, treatment, source water activities, restructuring, consolidating, or creating water systems, and technical assistance.

“The quick action to form a working group allowed West Virginia water systems and state partners an opportunity to share knowledge and resources at an early stage,” said Dr. Christiansen. “DHHR and DEP will coordinate with impacted communities to administer the federal funding.”

Additional samples of finished drinking water may be collected from sampling points located at the entry point to the distribution system and analyzed for PFAS compounds of concern.

“This information is another vital step forward in our efforts to address this issue,” said DEP Secretary Harold Ward. “The DEP, DHHR, and our local water systems can make more informed decisions and take appropriate next steps to ensure that safe, clean drinking water is accessible to all communities across West Virginia.”

There are 279 public water systems in West Virginia.