Local News

PFAS Extraction Plant Makes History

The Orange County Water District and the city of Fullerton have begun operation of OC’s first wellhead filtration treatment plant to remove the contaminants Per-and-polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) from local well water. The Kimberly Well 1A PFAS Treatment Plant is designed to treat 3,000 gallons of well water per minute, which is equivalent to 1.6 billion gallons per year.

OCWD is currently designing PFAS treatment plants for two more Fullerton wells and the other City wells are being monitored for PFAS concentrations and may have treatment plants constructed in the future.

PFAS treatment at the Kimberly well consists of ion-exchange resin media which does not extract volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Water produced from Kimberly Well does not currently have a VOCs concern. The PFAS treatment being designed for the City’s two wells at the Main Plant will be granular activated carbon (GAC). GAC will extract both PFAS and VOCs from the well water.

Understanding more about PFAS & VOCs

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as nonstick cookware, grease-proof fast-food wrappings and boxes, adhesives, fire retardant, and water and stain repellants. Most people have been exposed to PFAS. Certain PFAS can accumulate and stay in the human body for long periods of time. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States, since the 1940s.

PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights; effects on the immune system; cancer (for PFOA); and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS), according to the US EPA.

The Environmental Health Perspectives journal says that VOCs come from a wide variety of sources, including gasoline, plastics, paints, dyes, solvents, adhesives, insecticides, and spot removers, and have wide-ranging health effects. The chemical and physical properties of VOCs allow the compounds to move between the atmosphere, soil, surface water, and groundwater. Once in the environment, some VOCs degrade quickly whereas others persist for decades. The most common VOCs found were chloroform, toluene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, and perchloroethene. VOCs are a common ground-water contaminant.

The OCWD’s underground aquifer, known as the Orange County Groundwater Basin, “supplies approximately 77% of the water supply for north and central Orange County. Nineteen municipal and special water districts pump water from the groundwater basin and deliver it to the 2.5 million residents in the OCWD’s service area.

Last year, dozens of wells in Orange County were removed from service after the State of California lowered the Response Level advisories of PFOA and PFOS. This caused local water suppliers to rely on imported water from Northern California and the Colorado River to meet the needs of their customers. Mayor Bruce Whitaker said that, “Bringing this treatment facility online is very important. It means Fullerton can increase its use of local groundwater, which is less expensive and more reliable than imported water.”

Fullerton’s PFAS treatment plant is the first of its kind in Orange County.

How the wells are funded

OCWD is funding 100% of design and construction costs and 50% of operation and maintenance costs for its water suppliers like Fullerton. OCWD is currently considering loans and seeking grant opportunities both at the state and federal levels to keep the cost to ratepayers low.

OCWD, City of Fullerton, and 9 Orange County public water agencies filed a lawsuit on December 1, 2020, against the manufacturers of PFAS (3M Company; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; The Chemours Company; Corteva Inc.; Dupont de Nemours Inc.; DECRA Roofing Systems Inc.; and “Doe defendants 1-100.”), seeking to protect ratepayers.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants, “manufactured PFOS and/or PFOA and knew or reasonably should have known that these harmful compounds would reach groundwater, pollute drinking water supplies, render drinking water unusable and unsafe, and threaten the public health and welfare.”

For additional information on OCWD’s PFAS response, please visit https://www.ocwd.com/what-we-do/water-quality/pfas/.