EPA funds research on PFAS in rural water supplies

Research teams will look at major sources of PFAS contamination, fate and transport in rural areas.

Tim Lundeen, Editor

August 24, 2020

3 Min Read
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Aug. 20 that two universities in Indiana will receive research grants to better understand the potential impacts of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on water quality and availability in rural communities and agricultural operations across the U.S.

Purdue University and Indiana University are two of three institutions nationwide to be awarded grants that build on EPA’s efforts to implement the PFAS Action Plan, which outlines steps EPA is taking to address PFAS and protect public health, the announcement said.

These research teams will look at major sources of PFAS contamination, as well as their fate and transport in rural areas, including exposure risks from private drinking water wells and improved wastewater treatment methods to remove PFAS from water and biosolids that may be used for agricultural purposes.

Purdue noted that PFAS have long been used to make products like stain-resistant carpets and clothing, waterproofing textiles, grease- and water-resistant packing and nonstick pots and pans.

That means they accumulate in human bodies, and there’s evidence that they can be harmful for health, Purdue said, adding that PFAS can be found in treated sludges used as fertilizers on farms as well as treated wastewater used in irrigation.

Purdue professor of agronomy Linda Lee received a $1.6 million grant from EPA to understand the ways in which these agricultural applications may affect surface and ground waters that supply rural drinking wells in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. With other partners, including Virginia’s Hampton Roads Sanitation District, Lee’s team will get more than $2.3 million for the research.

“We apply biosolids to our farmland because they’re very valuable. Plants grow better when you apply biosolids, but they also contain PFAS,” Lee said. “Right now, there’s a knowledge gap there. We don’t know if these PFAS are getting into rural water supplies and, if so, at what levels and what might be the primary transport pathways.”

Lee’s study will evaluate the levels of PFAS in land-applied biosolids; the fate, transport and crop uptake of PFAS; the levels of PFAS in local rural water supplies, and the ways climate, landscape and hydrology affect PFAS movement and distribution.

“EPA’s funding of this research will not only benefit our rural communities but will also provide valuable insight to our agricultural producers,” said Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample dean of agriculture at Purdue. “This grant allows us to collaborate with research partners across multiple states to increase the potential impact.”

EPA announced that Indiana University will receive $1.6 million to develop a scalable platform for predicting PFAS occurrence in private wells to improve the understanding of exposure risks to rural communities relying on private wells for drinking water.

Indiana University will use an integrated modeling approach by comparing modeling predictions to private well samples collected nationwide via a citizen science campaign utilizing mailed-out test kits. The research is expected to substantially improve the accuracy of risk predictions and to facilitate informed risk management decisions.

EPA posted additional information about the projects.

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