Water systems warn Americans could soon see major rate hikes to filter out toxic ‘forever chemicals’

In exchange for cleaner water, Americans around the nation may soon have to pay hefty prices.

Water systems are starting to warn residents of massive rate hikes as they prepare to install technology to filter out toxic chemicals in a family known as PFAS.

Utilities from South Florida to upstate New York have warned customers that they could see significant price increases after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that they remove the substances, which have been linked to a number of cancers and other diseases, from their systems.

Last month, the EPA said it will require utilities whose water systems contain high levels of six types of PFAS to remove them from the water.

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of thousands of chemicals that have been used to make a variety of nonstick and waterproof products and firefighting foam.

The substances have also become ubiquitous in the environment, due in part to the fact that they tend to persist for a long time instead of breaking down.

Exposure to these so-called forever chemicals has been linked to increased risks of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, weakened immune systems, high cholesterol, and developmental issues in children.

Now, for the first time, utilities around the nation will be required to get them out of their drinking water to prevent customers’ exposure. But that will come at a price.

Last month, officials with Broward County, a populous South Florida locale, warned residents that those on county water could see “double or triple water rates for users.”

Alan Garcia, director of Broward County Water and Wastewater Services, told The Hill an average monthly bill for water is currently around $26. He agreed that amount could “potentially triple” as the county filters out PFAS — though he said it’s not clear whether rates will actually increase by that much.

His utility has 66,000 accounts — representing an estimated 230,000 people.

Fort Worth, Texas, officials also warned of consequences for ratepayers ahead of the EPA setting the rule last month.

“It’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to impact our ratepayers, and we’re going to be doing everything we possibly can to get some federal support in terms of the funding, but we’re going to have to move forward,” Fort Worth Water Director Chris Harder told Fort Worth Report.

In the wake of the rule, water suppliers in the Buffalo, N.Y., area also said PFAS filtration could affect rates, according to The Buffalo News.

And high water bills will not be contained to these few communities in the years ahead.

“A lot of systems are going to be faced with having to increase rates” as a result of the rule, said Chris Moody, regulatory technical manager at the American Water Works Association, a lobby group representing water providers.

It’s not entirely clear yet which water systems will need to filter out PFAS. The rule gives utilities a few years to test their water to determine if their levels of the chemicals fall above federal thresholds. If they do, utilities will then have to install technology to get rid of them.

That means the locales that have informed their consumers of rate increases may only be the first of many. The EPA, in its rule, estimated that about 6 percent to 10 percent of water systems will ultimately be found to contain PFAS at levels requiring action.

Moody said he believes this is an undercount and that more of the nation’s water systems could be contaminated.

He added that much of the expense will come from the cost of installing and maintaining filters capable of eliminating the toxic substances.

Water providers recently settled a major class action lawsuit against manufacturers of PFAS, and chemical giants could have to collectively pay billions of dollars to offset treatment costs.

But, Moody said, the settlements are not expected to be enough to defray the expense.

“If you do get money through it, it’ll likely only help you with maybe a third or a fourth of the costs,” he said.

The added costs do come with the notable benefit of lowering communities’ exposure to the harmful substances: Garcia described PFAS treatment as “probably something important to do.”

But, he said, “we’re sort of paying the price” of companies’ PFAS use.

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