Lead & PFAS

If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. The Springfield Utility Board (SUB) is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking. If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Information on lead in drinking water, testing methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline or on the Environmental Protection Agency website.

Does SUB’s system have any lead connectors?

Not that we know of, but we are currently confirming that they have all been removed. SUB’s records show that the only lead connectors in our system were on water mains installed prior to 1949. To ensure there are no remaining lead connectors in the water system, SUB is digging up water services from 1949 and earlier that have never been replaced. If a lead connector is found it will be removed and replaced with new, lead-free piping material.

What is a lead connector?

A lead connector is a short piece of flexible piping that runs from the water main to the public side service line pipe (as shown in diagram). Lead connectors, installed in the first half of the 20th century, were used because they are durable and easily bent. Modern installations use flexible lead-free piping materials for the service line and do not need separate connectors.

Is there lead in private water system plumbing?

There can be. When water stands for several hours in plumbing systems that contain lead, the lead may dissolve into your drinking water. If your home was built before 1986, it may have copper pipes with lead solder. In addition, any faucet purchased before 1997 may be constructed of brass containing up to 8% lead. More recent federal legislation has mandated, as of January 4, 2014, that all pipe, fittings, and fixtures may contain no more than 0.25% lead.

 

What is the greatest exposure risk to lead?

The greatest exposure risk to lead comes from swallowing lead paint chips or breathing dust that contains lead. Common sources of lead exposure include lead-based paint, household dust, soil, and materials used in plumbing.

 

What is the regulated level for lead in drinking water?

The lead standard for drinking water is 15 parts per billion (ppb). If more than 10 percent of tested taps have more than 15 ppb of lead, the public water system would be out of compliance and must take certain actions. SUB has not exceeded this standard. Drinking water with more than 15 ppb of lead over long periods of time can cause health effects.

 

What are the health effects of lead?

Exposure to lead in drinking water can cause serious health effects in all age groups. Infants and children can have decreases in IQ and attention span. Lead exposure can lead to new learning and behavior problems or exacerbate existing learning and behavior problems. The children of women who are exposed to lead before or during pregnancy can have increased risk of these adverse health effects. Adults can have increased risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney or nervous system problems.

 

How can I reduce my exposure to lead in drinking water?

Run your water to flush out lead.
Before using water for drinking or cooking, run the water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes colder from the tap, especially if the water has not been used for many hours. This flushes water that may contain lead from the pipes.

Use cold, fresh water for cooking, drinking, and preparing baby formula.
Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula.

Regularly clean your faucet aerator.
Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.

Consider buying low-lead faucets.
As of January 2014, all pipes, fittings, and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead, which is termed “lead-free”.

Consider investing in a filter.
Before you buy, confirm that the filter reduces lead – not all filters do. Remember that bacteria and other contaminants can collect in filters if not properly maintained, making water quality worse, not better.

Download the Lead & Drinking Water (PDF) from the Oregon Health Authority for more information.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are human-made compounds that have been in production since the 1940s and have been widely used in industrial applications, firefighting foam, and consumer products. Many PFAS are highly resistant to heat, oil, and water, making them valued for products such as food packaging, stain- and water-repellant fabrics, and nonstick cookware. Certain fire-fighting foams designed to suppress fuel fires contain PFAS; and, because they help reduce friction, PFAS are also used in a variety of other industries including aerospace, automotive, building and construction, and electronics.

As a class, PFAS include thousands of different chemicals. Research by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health effects. Currently, there are over 600 PFAS compounds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved for sale or import into the United States. The most commonly detected and studied PFAS chemicals are PFOA and PFOS. Though industry in the United States has voluntarily phased out PFOA and PFOS, they are still persistent in the environment.

Why are PFAS a concern for drinking water?

Due to their widespread use, mobility, and tendency to persist for long periods of time, PFAS can often be detected at low ambient levels in the environment. In places where PFAS have actually contaminated water supplies, such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility, for example, at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs or an industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture other products.

Unfortunately, some communities around the country have experienced levels of PFOA or PFOS in their water that exceed the EPA health advisory level of 0.07 parts per billion (ppb). Springfield does not have any known sources of PFAS contamination. Nevertheless, given PFAS’ emergence as a contaminant of concern for groundwater, SUB has opted to voluntarily sample its well water to ensure a safe water supply.

What do SUB’s sampling results mean?

SUB first sampled for PFAS in 2013 as part of the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, which EPA uses to collect data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water and do not have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). In 2013, SUB did not have detections of any PFAS chemicals. Analytical methods have improved considerably since then. In 2013, the laboratory analysis could detect PFAS chemical concentrations of 0.01 ppb or greater; detection limits are now as low as 0.002 ppb. Moreover, the number of individual chemicals the labs can test for has increased substantially. In other words, more advanced analytical methods are now able to detect a greater variety of chemicals and at incredibly low levels.

In May of 2019, in response to new revelations about PFAS contamination in other parts of the country, SUB developed a voluntary sampling plan for all of its groundwater sources. Samples were analyzed for 18 different PFAS chemicals, the maximum possible with laboratory methods at that time. Of the 24 SUB wells tested, two wells (SP and Sports Way) yielded detectable, but extremely low, concentrations of four PFAS compounds.

SUB continues to voluntarily sample for PFAS at our five entry points, which is where treated water enters the distribution system. The 2021 PFAS data are available in our water quality report. SUB normally presents its water quality data by referencing a maximum contaminant level (MCL), which is a regulatory threshold limit set by the EPA.  There is no MCL for any PFAS chemicals.  However, the EPA has issued a non-regulatory health advisory of 0.070 ppb for PFOA and PFOS combined, and the State of Oregon developed a combined HAL for PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, and PFHxS of 0.030 ppb. The levels SUB has detected are well below the EPA and State of Oregon health advisory levels. SUB takes water quality very seriously and is managing operation of its sources to mitigate against the presence of PFAS.

What are SUB’s next steps?

SUB is managing its operations accordingly until all mitigation options can be evaluated. SUB is working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to investigate potential sources of PFAS in Springfield’s Wellhead Protection Areas. SUB will also continue to conduct voluntary sampling. We will use the findings of our investigation with DEQ along with future monitoring results to determine the best path forward. These steps, along with our robust drinking water protection program and diverse water system, will ensure that we continue to provide safe, high-quality water to our customers.

What are EPA’s next steps?

As a public water system, SUB looks to the EPA for both regulation and guidance. In October 2021, EPA released its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, which includes, among other elements, a proposal to regulate PFOA and PFOS. This move by EPA marks an important step toward providing clear guidance to public water systems.

Where can I find more information?

The various online resources linked above provide a wealth of information about PFAS. The American Water Works Association has several fact sheets that specifically address PFAS and drinking water. For more in-depth information on a variety of PFAS-related topics, we recommend a guidance document by the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC). To learn about how the State of Oregon is responding to PFAS concerns, visit the Oregon Health Authority PFAS FAQ page.

As always, feel free to contact the SUB Water Division at 541-726-2396 with any questions about your water quality.

What can customers do?

SUB encourages all of its customers to join the effort to protect Springfield’s drinking water. To learn more about our drinking water sources and the ways we can all protect it together, look through our website or call the SUB Water Division at (541) 726-2396.

Updated April 21, 2022