Proactive, Statewide Testing Complete for Possible Surface Water Contaminants

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 15, 2021) – The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection has released Phase II of its statewide study of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which showed a majority of statewide surface water locations were well below the drinking water health advisory level.

PFAS are a set of manmade chemicals that have been used since the 1940s for their ability to resist heat, oil, grease and water and are or have been found in common consumer products like stain repellants, non-stick cookware and food bags. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PFOA and PFOS are the most studied PFAS chemicals and have been voluntarily phased out by industry, though they are still persistent in the environment and in the human body. Other PFAS, including GenX chemicals, used to make some nonstick coatings, are in use throughout our economy.

The EPA is taking action to identify solutions to address PFAS in the environment – including calling for a new “EPA Council on PFAS” to better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by these chemicals. The EPA is also working to develop effective regulation and provide improved public health protections for all Americans and Kentuckians.

The EPA does not have a water quality standard for PFAS, but has issued health advisories for surface with PFOA at 70 part per trillion (ppt), is a measurement of the quantity of a substance in the air, water or soil, PFOS at 70 ppt and PFOA plus PFOS at a combined 70 ppt.

The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection proactively tested 40 surface water-monitoring stations throughout the state for the chemicals since results may provide valuable insight for public water systems and consumers.

The department’s surface water study’s highlights include:

  • No PFAS were detected in four of the 40 samples, pulled from the Big Sandy River, Licking River and Cumberland River basins;
  • PFAS levels at less than 5 ppt were detected in 30 of the 40 samples;
  • PFAS levels surpassed the combined PFOA and PFOS health advisory level of 70 PPT for finished drinking water in three of the 40 total samples;
  • The highest single detection was PFOS at 249 PPT at Quarles Spring in Christian County.

The department will be following up this preliminary study with additional water and fish tissue sampling at the four locations where combined PFOA and PFOS exceeded the health advisory level.

“I want to thank all those in the DEP who developed and carried out this phase of proactive PFAS testing,” Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said. “This brings us one step closer to identifying the locations and levels of these chemicals as we continue to work towards a strategy around them that will protect the health and safety of Kentuckians.”

This study is a follow up to a 2019 DEP investigation conducted to evaluate the occurrence of PFAS in Kentucky’s drinking water. That five-month study analyzed finished drinking water — Kentuckians’ likeliest exposure to PFAS — from treatment plants that covered half of Kentucky’s population. The study found that all samples tested were below the U.S. EPA Health Advisory Level.

Results of the most recent testing are attached and can be found here.