PFAS Management

PFAS are a group of long-lasting, human-made chemicals found everywhere in the environment. PWD is committed to ensuring PFAS levels in drinking water are below all state and federal guidelines.

PFAS: What Are They?

  • Human-made perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances—called PFAS—have been used in industrial applications and a wide range of consumer products including cookware, fabrics, paper products and firefighting foams. There are more than 9,000 types of PFAS compounds.
  • Substances in the PFAS family are not found in water alone. These compounds have been used globally for decades and do not break down easily or quickly. PFAS are widespread around the world, even found in remote environments such as the Arctic.
  • Exposure to certain types of PFAS substances can have adverse effects on your health. Studies have linked PFOS and PFOA, which are two types of PFAS compounds, to negative effects on the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as decreased birth weight and cancer. Other types of PFAS are still being studied for their effects on human health.

As part of our steadfast commitment to providing safe, reliable drinking water, we want to tell you what we do to safeguard our supply.

Customer and Safety Concerns

  • In our region, PFAS were initially detected in groundwater near military bases that used certain firefighting foams. Philadelphia’s drinking water comes from the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, not groundwater.
  • There are still many other commercial and industrial sources that need to be evaluated. PFAS can be found around the world in air, water, and food.
  • The state of Pennsylvania is in the process of regulating drinking water for two PFAS compounds known as PFOS and PFOA.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also in the process of creating a national limit for some PFAS substances in drinking water. The EPA expects to finalize this rule by the end of 2023.
  • The EPA has issued a lifetime health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water that is near zero. However, this is not a regulation, and the health advisory level is so low that it cannot be measured by any laboratory.
  • Bottled water is not a PFAS-free alternative to tap water. Some at-home water filters can reduce the level of PFAS in your drinking water, but they won’t remove PFAS entirely.

Philadelphia Water Department Actions

PWD began proactively and voluntarily testing for PFAS in 2019. Our goal is to better understand the occurrence of these compounds in the city’s water supply and in the treated drinking water we deliver to customers. In 2020, PWD published a report detailing the levels of PFAS detected in the rivers and creeks that supply our drinking water. Read the PFAS Water Resources Characterization Study.

PWD has also tested Philadelphia’s drinking water and found PFAS levels well below the proposed criteria for drinking water in Pennsylvania. The state of Pennsylvania has proposed limits of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 18 ppt for PFOS in drinking water to protect human health.

In 2021 and 2022, PWD monitored PFAS levels at our three drinking water treatment plants: Baxter, Queen Lane, and Belmont.  Baxter draws water from the Delaware River, and Queen Lane and Belmont draw water from the Schuylkill River. At Queen Lane, two locations in the plant were sampled to compare the results from the same plant. At Baxter, there were several non-detects, or samples that had PFAS concentrations below the level at which the laboratory could detect them. The results are summarized below, and the complete results are published in the PFAS Drinking Water Characterization Study. No drinking water samples exceeded the proposed state limits for PFOA or PFOS.

a simple map of Philadelphia shows our three Drinking Water Treatment Plants: Belmont on the West side of the Schuylkill River, Queen Lane on the east side of the Schuylkill, and Baxter on the Delaware River.
a chart showing the PFOS concentrations detected at the four sampling sites between August 2021 and February 2022. Most results are under 5 parts per trillion, with the highest detected concentration at 6.6 ppt - all well under the proposed state limit of 18 ppt.
PFOS Results (EPA Method 537.1)
LocationNumber of SamplesNon-detectsMinimum (ppt)Maximum (ppt)Average
Baxter1582.25.33.1
Queen Lane 11503.86.64.9
Queen Lane 21503.95.94.8
Belmont1502.95.63.8
A chart showing the PFOA concentrations detected at the four sampling sites between August 2021 and February 2022. All results were 8 parts per trillion or lower - well under the proposed state limit of 14 ppt.
PFOA Results (EPA Method 537.1)
LocationNumber of SamplesNon-detectsMinimum (ppt)Maximum (ppt)Average
Baxter1522.08.03.1
Queen Lane 11506.37.87.1
Queen Lane 21505.97.97.1
Belmont1503.97.95.9

PFAS contamination is the result of decades of environmental pollution and is a problem that cannot be solved by water utilities alone. PFAS producers and manufacturers must be held accountable for the control of this pollution at its sources and for its cleanup throughout the region. In addition to sampling surface and drinking water for PFAS, PWD also collaborates with neighboring water utilities and government agencies to better understand how the contaminant occurs throughout the region. As our understanding of PFAS impacts evolves, PWD will continue to follow the latest scientific discoveries to ensure the integrity of our water supply.

The information contained herein is dated as of September 2022 and is subject to change without notice.  The Philadelphia Water Department undertakes no obligation to update the information contained herein as a result of any future changes or regulations. 

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