LaGrange water tests positive for potentially toxic chemicals

Published 9:37 am Friday, September 22, 2023

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LaGrange’s water system has tested positive for chemicals linked to cancer and other health concerns. The chemicals are currently unregulated, but EPA rules may soon change to limit them in drinking water.

LaGrange is among 11 water systems in Georgia out of 52 tested that have positive for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to a report published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Currently, PFAS are unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the chemicals are among many other contaminants in water systems that are under consideration for federal regulation.

The EPA has recently issued health advisories that PFAS are potentially toxic at lower levels than previously thought and may soon become regulated. 

Utilities Director Patrick Bowie confirmed that PFAS were found in water samples sent from LaGrange.

Bowie said the water samples were sent in through a testing program called Uncontrolled Contaminant Monitoring. 

“Every few years, they start looking at an additional set of contaminants in water and then they’ll do some testing, and they’ll try to find out what the concentrations are in the water of those particular substances,” Bowie said, noting this is the fifth round of those tests.

Bowie said the EPA will then set and determine targets and how much of the contaminants are allowed in water.

“This is just a very preliminary testing. They had some ballpark targets that they were measuring against, but there are no regulatory limits at this point,” Bowie said.

At some point, the EPA will issue regulations on PFAS that will have to be met, Bowie said. 

Bowie indicated that LaGrange was above the EPA’s target limit but at this point, they do not know if the city will be in violation of the new rules when they are set.

Bowie said the target numbers were extremely low in the low single digits per trillion.

“These are extremely low levels,” Bowie said. “On the EPA’s website, they’re not really sure yet, whether it’s a health problem or not at those low levels over long-term exposure periods. They’re still researching and trying to determine what, if anything, they want to do about it.”

Bowie said there are no official regulations at this point. Once new regulations come out, if the city has to do any additional treatment to meet the new requirements, then they will determine what they need to do.

Bowie said removing PFAS could end up being very expensive.

“I think Clayton County was throwing out numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment technology to try and reduce their produce their number. It could be a very expensive regulation by the time it’s all said and done with,” Bowie said.

Bowie said the number of substances that are tested for continues to grow year by year.

“When I first came to work here, 35 years ago, we were testing for a few contaminants and making sure that we treated the water for those contaminants. That list has just grown and grown every year. They’re adding additional treatment standards that we have to meet, so it’s a continuing evolution of the regulatory framework that we have to try and operate within,” Bowie said. “They’re just trying to make the water as healthy and clean as you possibly can.”