Americans Brace for Hefty Water Rate Hikes Amidst Push for PFAS Removal

Featured & Cover Americans Brace for Hefty Water Rate Hikes Amidst Push for PFAS Removal

In return for purer water, Americans across the nation may soon face substantial financial burdens. Water systems are cautioning residents about significant rate increases as they gear up to implement technology to filter out harmful chemicals known as PFAS.

Utilities from South Florida to upstate New York are alerting customers that they might experience considerable price hikes following the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate to eliminate these substances, linked to various cancers and other illnesses, from their systems. The EPA recently announced its requirement for utilities with water systems containing elevated levels of six types of PFAS to eradicate them from the water.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, represent a group of thousands of chemicals utilized in the production of nonstick and waterproof products as well as firefighting foam. These substances have become pervasive in the environment, persisting for extended periods without breaking down.

Exposure to these persistent chemicals has been associated with heightened risks of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers, compromised immune systems, elevated cholesterol, and developmental issues in children. Now, utilities nationwide face the unprecedented task of removing them from drinking water to mitigate customer exposure. However, this endeavor comes at a cost.

Broward County officials in South Florida cautioned residents about potential drastic water rate increases. Alan Garcia, director of Broward County Water and Wastewater Services, indicated that average monthly water bills, currently around $26, could potentially double or triple as the county addresses PFAS filtration. Yet, the exact extent of the rate increase remains uncertain. With 66,000 accounts, representing an estimated 230,000 individuals, the utility is bracing for substantial changes.

Similarly, officials in Fort Worth, Texas, foresee repercussions for ratepayers in light of the recent EPA regulation. Chris Harder, Fort Worth Water Director, acknowledged the anticipated expenses and their impact on ratepayers, emphasizing efforts to secure federal funding support to alleviate the burden.

Reports from water suppliers in the Buffalo, N.Y., area also suggest that PFAS filtration efforts could influence rates, signaling broader implications beyond specific locales. According to Chris Moody, regulatory technical manager at the American Water Works Association, numerous systems nationwide may face rate increases as a consequence of the rule.

While it remains unclear which water systems will necessitate PFAS filtration, utilities have a few years to conduct tests to determine if their chemical levels surpass federal thresholds. Should they exceed these thresholds, utilities must install filtration technology, indicating that communities warned of rate increases may only represent the beginning. The EPA estimates that approximately 6 percent to 10 percent of water systems will ultimately require action, though Moody believes this figure may underestimate the extent of contamination nationwide.

Much of the financial strain will stem from the installation and maintenance costs of filters capable of eliminating these toxic substances. Despite recent settlements in a major class-action lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers, which could potentially offset treatment costs, Moody doubts these settlements will suffice.

He anticipates that any financial restitution will likely cover only a fraction of the overall expenses. While the added costs pose significant financial burdens, they offer the crucial benefit of reducing communities’ exposure to harmful substances. Garcia acknowledged the importance of PFAS treatment, characterizing it as a necessary measure. Nonetheless, he lamented that communities are bearing the brunt of companies’ past PFAS usage.

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