Thousands of Hoosiers could be drinking water contaminated with toxic PFAS “forever chemicals,” potentially increasing their risk of developing cancer, liver damage and other health problems.
PFAS are a family of thousands of manmade chemicals used since the 1940s to manufacture products resistant to water, fire, grease and stains, including firefighting foam and name brand products like Teflon, Gore-Tex and Scotchgard.
PFAS have been linked to an increased risk of developing kidney and testicular cancer, increased cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreased birth weight and decreased vaccine response in children.
PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they can last in the environment practically forever. They also stay in the human body for at least five years after they enter.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management tested more than 300 small community water systems across the state, those that serve less than 3,300 people, for the presence of various PFAS chemicals.
PFAS chemicals were detected in the treated water of 29 systems, which mainly serve populations in rural areas and mobile home parks across the state.
Testing found 13 different PFAS chemicals in treated water from the systems, some at levels above those deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
IDEM has said further investigation or mitigation could happen at water systems with PFAS above the EPA’s health advisory levels or IDEM action levels.
The EPA has begun the process of regulating six PFAS chemicals.
The agency is attempting to set national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFAS that would require water systems to reduce the levels of the two chemicals in drinking water to 4 parts per trillion, the lowest amount that can be reliably detected.
The agency also proposed regulating PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX chemicals as a mixture, meaning water systems will use a formula called a hazard index calculation to determine what level of the chemicals pose a risk.
These water systems involved in IDEM’s sampling project, and the Hoosiers they serve, would be most affected by a new PFAS standard:
DELPHI WATER WORKS – CARROLL COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOS 4.0 ng/l, PFBS 3.1 ng/l
Delphi Water Works pumps groundwater from seven wells around the city to about 3,200 Hoosiers.
Samples taken from the city’s untreated and finished water, or water that has passed through its treatment plant, both contained PFOS and PFBS. The levels of PFOS found were about 1,000 times greater than the EPA’s proposed standards.
PFOS is used in stain-resistant fabrics, food packaging, as a surfactant in industrial processes and in firefighting foams. PFBS is a byproduct that appears when PFOS breaks down and has many of the same uses as PFOS.
CRESCENT HILLS MOBILE HOME PARK – CASS COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOS 3.7 ng/l, PFOA 2.4 ng/l, PFHxS 2.8 ng/l, PFBS 3.1 ng/l
The Crescent Hills Mobile Home Park is located in Logansport, and serves about 122 Hoosiers. The park’s water comes from a single well located inside the park.
Samples taken from the park’s treated water contained five different PFAS chemicals, PFOS, PFBS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHxA. The levels of PFOA and PFOS were hundreds of times greater than the EPA’s proposed standards.
PFOA is used in surface finishing, metal plating and to make goods that are waterproof, heatproof, greaseproof and stainproof. PFHxS and PFHxA have similar uses and are the breakdown byproducts of PFOA and PFOS.
The Crescent Hills Mobile Home Park is surrounded by several companies that potentially use or have used PFAS products, including a metal finishing company and a cabinet manufacturing and finishing company.
The park is expected to connect to a municipal water supply soon.
LEAVENWORTH WATER CO. – CRAWFORD COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOA 3.2 ng/l
The Leavenworth Water Co. is located along the Ohio River, west of the O’Bannon Woods State Park.
The company provides groundwater pumped from three wells to 233 Hoosiers. The wells are located in a part of town that was evacuated after a major flood in 1937.
Sampling indicated the presence of PFOA at levels about 800 times greater than the EPA’s proposed standard for the chemical.
The community is downstream from many potential sources of PFAS contamination found in several states along the Ohio River.
WESTPORT WATER CO. – DECATUR COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOS 2.9 ng/l, PFHxA 6.1 ng/l, PFHpA 3.5 ng/l, PFBS 2.3 ng/l
The Westport Water Co. is located southeast of Westport and serves about 1,598 Hoosiers.
The company’s water comes from nearby Sandy Creek, which is then pumped into ponds at the water plant and stored use.
IDEM sampling detected PFOS in the company’s treated water at levels about 725 times greater than the EPA’s proposed standard for the chemical. PFHxa, PFHpA and PFBS were also detected.
The water system has also experienced an excess of trihalomethane, a carcinogenic chemical compound that occurs when the chlorine used for disinfecting tap water reacts with natural organic matters. Trihalomethane is also produced for use as solvents or refrigerants, which sometimes make their way into waterways.
HAUBSTADT WATER DEPARTMENT – GIBSON COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOA 2.7 ng/l
The Haubstadt Water Dept. purchases its water from Gibson Water, Inc., which purchases its water from the Evansville Municipal Water Utility. The department serves about 1,578 Hoosiers.
IDEM testing found PFOA at levels 675 times the proposed EPA standard.
AND-TRO WATER AUTHORITY – DISTRICT 1 – PERRY COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOA 3.1 ng/
The And-Tro Water Authority serves about 2,678 Hoosiers. The company gets its water from the Tell City Water Department, which draws its water from several wells along the Ohio River.
IDEM sampling found PFOA in water provided by And-Tro Water Authority at 775 times the proposed EPA standard.
According to the EPA, aluminum production is a major source of perfluorocarbon emissions, like PFOA.
The source of the PFOA contamination has not been officially identified, but a possible source may be nearby. Tell City’s drinking water wells are located across the river from the Century Aluminum Co. aluminum smelter in Hawesville, Kentucky.
TROY TOWNSHIP WATER ASSOCIATION – PERRY COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOA 3.2 ng/
The Troy Township Water Association serves about 700 Hoosiers. Like the And-Tro Water Authority, Troy Township Water Association gets its water from the Tell City Water Department.
IDEM sampling found PFOA at levels 800 times greater than the EPA’s proposed limit for the chemical.
INDIANA AMERICAN WATER – FARMERSBURG – SULLIVAN COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOS 5.6 ng/l, PFBS 3.2 ng/l, PFHxS 2.5 ng/l
Indiana American Water – Farmersburg serves Farmersburg and portions of several surrounding townships. The company gets its drinking water from Indiana American Water Terre Haute.
The company conducts its own PFAS sampling, which detected the presence of multiple PFAS. The company found PFOS at 3.7 ng/l in 2021.
IDEM testing found PFOS at a high 5.6 ng/l, which is 1,400 times the EPA’s proposed standard. IDEM also found PFBS and PFHxS in the samples.
SULLIVAN-VIGO RURAL WATER CORP. – VIGO COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFOS 2.7 ng/l, PFBS 2.4 ng/l, PFHxA 4 ng/l, PFHxS 2.4 ng/l
The Sullivan-Vigo Rural Water Corp. gets its water from Indiana American Water – Terre Haute and serves 2,595 Hoosiers.
IDEM sampling found PFOS at 675 times the maximum level proposed by the EPA. Sampling also detected PFHxA and PFHxS in water.
Indiana American Water – Terre Haute will be part of IDEM’s Phase 3 of PFAS testing this year.
OTHER SOON-TO-BE-REGULATED PFAS FOUND
IDEM’s PFAS sampling identified 16 community water systems with PFAS chemicals the EPA plans to regulate through the use of a formula called a hazard index calculation to determine what level of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX present in drinking water poses a risk.
The systems include the Decatur Co. Rural Water Corp., Delaware Acres Mobile Home Community, Elkhart Mobile Home Park, Attica Water Utility, Veedersburg Municipal Water Supply, Brookville Water Works, Community Utilities of Indiana Water Service Co., Kent Water-Hanover College, Rykers Ridge Water Co., Peru Utilities/Grissom, Indiana American Water-Mecca, Francesville Water Dept., Roachdale Water Works, Riverside Community Water Co., Sunman Water Works and Fayette Township Water Association.
NON-REGULATED PFAS FOUND
IDEM water system sampling found three systems solely with unregulated PFAS chemicals.
LAKESIDE MANOR MOBILE HOME PARK – LAGRANGE COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFTrDA 2.6 ng/l, PFDoA 2.2 ng/l
The Lakeside Manor Mobile Home Park is located in Shipshewana near the Michigan-Indiana border. The park gets its drinking water from a well located at the park site.
IDEM sampling detected the presence of perfluorotridecanoic acid, also known as PFTrDA, and perfluorododecanoic acid, known as PFDoA, in the park’s drinking water.
PFTrDA is used to make industrial and commercial products, like photographic film, firefighting foam, detergents and insecticides. PFDoA is used in the textile industry as a dye component
TRI-COUNTY CONSERVANCY DISTRICT – MORGAN COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: NEtFOSAA 1.9 ng/l
The Tri-County Conservancy District serves 2,340 Hoosiers who live in a planned community just southwest of Indianapolis. The district purchases its water from Citizens Water in Indianapolis.
IDEM detected N-ethyl perfluorooctane sulfonamide, or NEtFOSAA, a PFAS chemicals used in pesticides, stain repellants, food packaging and some firefighting foams.
Citizens Water will be one of the large water systems sampled for PFAS by IDEM this year.
CLARKS HILL WATER WORKS – TIPPECANOE COUNTY
PFAS detected in treated water: PFUdA 1.9 ng/l, PFTrDA 2.3 ng/l, PFTeDA 2.2 ng/l, PFDoA 2 ng/l, NMeFOSAA 2 ng/l, NEtFosAA 2 ng/l, 11Cl-PF3OUdS 2 ng/l
Located nearly halfway between Lafayette and Lebanon, the Clarks Hill Water Works serves 660 Hoosiers.
The company draws water from two wells on the north side of Clarks Hill.
IDEM sampling found seven types of unregulated PFAS chemicals in the system’s water, including NEtFoSAA and the similar NMeFOSAA, PFTrDA, PFTeDA, PFDoA, PFUda and 11Cl-PF3OUdS.
The chemicals are used in pesticides, food packaging, some firefighting foams and as a mist suppressant in chrome plating and other metal plating.