Growing awareness of PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in our environment has spurred recent interest among Boiseans about their impact and the City of Boise’s response to them.
While the science behind this emerging global issue is still being deliberated by national experts, the City of Boise is taking early action to inventory the use of PFAS by and in the city, and to work with partners to develop actions plans as more information becomes available.
What is PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of human-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. 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.
PFAS can be found in:
- Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS, or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water
- Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams
- Workplace, including production facilities or industries
- Drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility
- Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time. [i]
Why are PFAS important?
PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that people use daily such as cookware, pizza boxes 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. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans[ii]
What does this mean for the City of Boise?
As part of the early analysis across departments to inventory PFAS use, the city has identified one source of current PFAS use, which is related to firefighting foam. The Boise Airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use firefighting foam containing PFAS. The Airport and Boise Fire Department only use this foam when it is required to do so. While there are varying types of firefighting foam, the Airport and Fire Department use the foam type with the least amount of PFAS compounds.
The other area of increased focus related to PFAS in Boise is the city’s water systems. The city operates the water renewal (wastewater) system, which collects roughly 30 million gallons of used water from Boise homes and businesses every day, treats that water at two water renewal facilities to a high level, and then releases it to the Boise River. The city is presently evaluating levels of PFAS throughout the system to determine testing, sampling protocols, and potential long-term treatment/removal options.
Suez Water is responsible for all aspects of the drinking water system in the City of Boise.
What is the City of Boise doing?
PFAS is an emerging issue, meaning that the science is still developing. There is not clear and uniform understanding on how to test, where to test, and the quality and efficacy of those tests. While federal and/or state agencies are actively engaged in the issue, regulations and technically sound sampling methods have not yet been established. Regardless of this, the City of Boise is proactively identifying uses, testing, protocols and partnering with organizations and agencies to advance the science. The city is engaged with the following efforts related to PFAS:
- Conducting a thorough audit on all city (municipal) processes and operation to identify any PFAS use and address how to limit or eliminate future use.
- Coordinating with the EPA to voluntarily test groundwater, irrigation water, biosolids, soils, influent (water coming in) and effluent (water leaving) our water renewal facilities to support analytical method development. Boise is one of only a handful of cities across the nation currently involved in this coordination.
- Partnering with a national engineering leader in water quality and emerging constituents (including PFAS). The partner is helping Boise actively understand the latest science, implications, responses and lessons learned from across the country related to emerging constituents, including PFAS.
- Establishing a long-term PFAS action plan across city departments.
- Engaging with Suez Water, the city’s drinking water provider, and requested their PFAS testing results.