The City of Savannah Water Resources Department developed this informational webpage to help educate our customers on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”, and their presence in the City’s source water from the Savannah River and finished drinking water that is produced at the City of Savannah Industrial & Domestic (I&D) Water Treatment Plant.
PFAS detection in drinking water is a rapidly developing topic of discussion around the country. As data is collected and research continues, public water systems are learning more about PFAS, and many issues related to PFAS are still evolving at this time. The following information is meant to be an introductory resource on the topic of PFAS and includes background information, current health-related data resources, regulatory information, and City of Savannah water quality PFAS data. The City will continue to proactively share information and data with our water customers going forward.
What are PFAS?
You may have heard about PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals”, because they do not readily break down in the natural environment and can build-up over time. PFAS are a large group of chemicals used since the 1940s in common household and commercial products. Their manufacturing and use have introduced PFAS into the human environment in multiple ways. According to the Water Research Foundation and because they were (and still are) used in so many everyday products, most people in the United States and other industrialized countries have likely already been exposed to PFAS.
You can learn more about what PFAS are and the ways that you can be exposed to them from the following resources:
Are PFAS harmful?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA): “Current scientific research suggests that exposure to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects.” USEPA also states that: “There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This makes it challenging to study and assess the potential human health and environmental risks”. Below are links to health-related information on PFAS:
What are the Federal and State regulations for PFAS in drinking water?
For about 10 years, Federal and State regulators have been investigating PFAS chemicals by gathering data and compiling scientific studies on health impacts and treatment strategies. Starting in 2016, the USEPA started releasing non-enforceable lifetime health advisory (LHA) levels for certain PFAS chemicals and subsequently issued updates to those levels. In March 2023, the USEPA set a non-enforceable proposed maximum contaminant level (MCL) for some PFAS chemicals. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GAEPD) has followed the USEPA guidance as seen in the following websites:
How does the City of Savannah’s Drinking Water compare to the Proposed Regulations?
Like many water utilities along the Savannah River and elsewhere around the country, the City of Savannah’s surface water is affected by PFAS. For Savannah, the levels of PFOA and PFOS in the water that will withdraw from the Savannah River are near the USEPA proposed MCL of 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt). Four other PFAS chemicals are currently considered collectively in a Hazard Index (HI). At least one of these additional PFAS chemicals is present in Savannah’s source water, but at levels far below proposed regulatory limits. The average values shown below are calculated in a similar way to the proposed regulations for reporting to GAEPD and can be reasonably compared to the proposed regulatory limit.
Table: Savannah I&D Drinking Water PFAS Data
Note 1: US EPA guidance dated November 2016 established a non-enforceable LHA level of 70ppt for PFOS and PFOA combined. According to the Practical Quantitation Limit (PQL) methods in 40 CFR 141 and 142, a non-detect (ND) sample is included in the 4-sample rolling average as 0ppt.
Note 2: US EPA guidance dated March 2023 established a proposed MCL of 4ppt each for PFOA and PFOA. In accordance with 40 CFR 141, PFAS results collected as a part of UCMR-5 starting in January 2023 are subject to specific reporting requirements. The GAEPD provided PFAS laboratory results for this sample on October 12, 2023.
The City of Savannah currently operates a combination of groundwater and surface water systems. Our customers, including neighboring municipalities (i.e. Pooler, Port Wentworth, Garden City, Effingham County, Bloomingdale and Thunderbolt) have water service generally as follows: (1) entirely groundwater, (2) entirely surface water, or (3) combined surface and groundwater. In addition to what the City of Savannah supplies, neighboring municipalities may be contributing their own groundwater in some cases and some areas have private wells. PFAS testing on City of Savannah groundwater wells indicates that none of the City’s active groundwater wells had detectable levels of PFAS chemicals. The following map generally indicates the type of water supplied in different areas at this time:
How widespread are PFAS in water sources?
The presence of PFAS chemicals is widespread at varying concentrations in the Savannah River surface water both in Georgia and South Carolina. The map below indicates levels (ppt) of two specific PFAS chemicals found in the Savannah River watershed from Lake Keowee in Upstate South Carolina downstream to Savannah. This data was released by the South Carolina Regulatory Agency known as SCDHEC in 2020. There are multiple water utilities along the Savannah River that use the river as a source for the production of drinking water.
The links below provide additional details from SCDHEC regarding the presence of PFAS in the Savannah River watershed.
Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA) draws water from the Savannah River approximately 10 miles upstream from where the City of Savannah withdraws its source water from Abercorn Creek in southeastern Effingham County. Along with several other regional water utilities, BJWSA has published PFAS data and informational statements on their websites regarding PFAS levels detected in their source water and finished drinking water. The links below provide information that other water utilities have posted on their websites regarding PFAS (i.e. BJWSA, Calhoun, GA and Clayton County, GA Water Authority).
What is the City of Savannah doing about PFAS in the water?
Sharing Information with our Customers – The City of Savannah will continue to post data to our website on PFAS chemicals in the Savannah River and in our drinking water as available. Recently, the USEPA selected both the City of Savannah and some of our municipal customers to participate in the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Regulation 5 (UCMR-5) program which began in January 2023. Savannah will make this data publicly available on our water quality portal on our website.
Coordinating with State and Federal Regulators – City of Savannah representatives are in regular contact with GAEPD and USEPA representatives as well as representatives from our municipal customers to share data and stay current on developments regarding PFAS data and the evolving regulatory environmental related to PFAS.
Future PFAS Treatment Planning – The City of Savannah is in the process of engaging an engineering and consulting team with extensive PFAS experience regarding upgrades to the 50 million gallon per day surface water treatment plant (i.e. Savannah I&D WTP) including management of PFAS. Various PFAS treatment strategies are under consideration which will likely result in significant cost increases to the drinking water production process, but the City of Savannah is committed to serving our customers by maintaining compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements. The City of Savannah will be exploring available outside funding resources to minimize the cost impact of PFAS treatment on our customers. While we formulate our future technical and financial plans related to PFAS, the City will disseminate information to our customers to assist them in understanding this evolving regulatory issue. To that end, the information below includes measures that customers can take to minimize exposure to PFAS both from drinking water sources and non-drinking sources other than drinking water.
How can I reduce the risk to my health?
PFAS chemicals have a widespread presence. Reducing your health risks from PFAS involves addressing multiple pathways of exposure. The links below can help you know how to reduce the risk of exposure from all these sources:
Please direct any questions or requests for additional information regarding PFAS to Shawn Rosenquist, Ph.D., P.E., at email@example.com or call 912-525-3100 ext. 2511 (direct line) or 912-651-6573 (office line) .