Opinion: Emerging pollutants in water: what the future might hold

It’s only a matter of time before Connecticut’s water utilities need to upgrade their systems to remove so-called emerging pollutants. Now is the time for more utilities to get ready and take advantage of federal funding.

Emerging contaminants, in general, have dominated drinking water regulatory compliance over the past few years. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have become the focus of water systems large and small.

These contaminants have a significant impact on the health of national/state communities and should be a top consideration for all water providers, especially given the new federal infrastructure funding that includes substantial funding to address these contaminants.

Complicating matters, states have begun to institute different regulatory limits for some or all of the same compounds, often much stricter than federal guidelines.

In Connecticut, a potential policy is being considered with Gov. Ned Lamont’s PFAS task force, but no state limits have been set so far. To prepare for new regulations and existing ones to address them, water suppliers and suppliers should understand the challenges others face and ways to mitigate them.

Perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made chemicals that have been linked to adverse health effects. Extensive testing in drinking water has led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to examine whether stricter regulations should be instituted. Monitoring these developments in many Northeastern states has shown me that the solution is not “one size fits all,” although lessons can be learned in each case.

Some Connecticut cities, such as Manchester Township, have taken proactive steps to assess their vulnerability to the potential impact of PFAS. New York and New Jersey are among several states that have enacted local regulations regarding PFAS. When New Jersey sets PFAS maximum contaminant limits in the first quarter of 2021, water providers are tasked with making their water supply compliant. Like many other providers, the Atlantic City Municipal Public Utilities Administration is being challenged by these new regulations. Atlantic City’s water supply comes from two sources: surface water and groundwater. Wells built in the city are located along the lake that borders Atlantic City International Airport. Testing of several wells revealed the need for urgent action to achieve a level of compliance.

To meet the established compliance timeline, the H2M team leveraged previous experience with this range of chemicals and previous relationships with manufacturer partners. Success requires contractors and equipment to come together at the right time to ensure all parts are ready for rapid deployment.

Of course, PFAS is just one example of a contaminant that poses a threat to drinking water. Another threat is 1,4-dioxane. This is one of the more challenging contaminants to remove from water because traditional filtration is often ineffective. It has been successfully addressed on Long Island, which has the highest concentration of groundwater supply well levels in the United States. With accelerated pilot testing and subsequent rapid deployment, Long Island’s drinking water suppliers are able to comply with the new regulations and protect public health, as they did with PFAS in Atlantic City.

Successfully developed and implemented rapid deployment of emerging contaminants for numerous water providers in New York and New Jersey, resulting from extensive water quality experience and a carefully applied integrated modular design approach. This allows the project approach to be adjusted to suit specific project needs and can be applied to any unique water quality across the country.

With this approach, knowledge of the challenges that may arise, and substantial federal funding, there is no reason to hesitate in addressing these pollutants; regulations will come. Active planning is the only way they will be prepared.

James J. Roberts is Director of Water/Wastewater Marketing at H2M Architects and Engineers. The company’s Windsor office is located at 360 Bloomfield Avenue.

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