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Drinking water in parts of the Netherlands often contains higher concentrations of PFAS than people are allowed to ingest through drinking water

Source: H2O ACTUEEL ,  19 OKTOBER 2022

Drinking water in parts of the Netherlands often contains higher concentrations of PFAS than people are allowed to ingest through drinking water. This is especially true for drinking water made from river water. Minister Mark Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management is asking drinking water companies what opportunities they see for reducing PFAS concentrations where necessary. He is also adjusting discharge permits.

The highest concentrations of PFAS substances in drinking water are now in the western Netherlands, where drinking water is made primarily from river water. So says the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, which investigated how much PFAS is in our drinking water.

For the nationwide study, measurement data were available between 2015 and February 2021. The data show that the European standard for PFAS in drinking water is met at all locations, Minister Harbers writes to the House of Representatives. The measurements at the production sites also show that the amounts of PFAS in our drinking water remain below the RIVM’s safe limit (health-based limit).

But when looking at the World Health Organization (WHO) advice that the proportion of PFAS that people ingest through drinking water should be no more than 20 percent of the healthful limit, the picture looks different: In more than half of the measurements in drinking water made from river water, the concentration is now higher. The same applies to one in ten measurements in drinking water made from groundwater, RIVM concludes.

The National Institute recommends lowering the allowable value in drinking water, since PFAS enters the body in more ways than just through drinking water. RIVM recommends a value of up to 4.4 nanograms per liter.

Reducing

RIVM’s findings are reason for Minister Harbers to ask drinking water companies what opportunities they see for reducing PFAS concentrations where necessary.

In his letter to the House of Representatives, the minister writes that in response, the drinking water industry is investigating what modifications to current treatment plants are possible in the short term. “Research is ongoing into the possibilities of achieving a PFAS reduction through various technologies, such as adjusting the dosage of activated carbon or by applying reverse osmosis.”

RESEARCH METHOD

To achieve structural solutions, multi-year research is needed, both on the effects of the European total ban on PFAS on the concentration in surface water and on new or additional treatment technologies, the minister writes.

The minister also wants to include the drinking water guideline value as a legal quality requirement in the Drinking Water Decree in the future. Because of the impact this has on the business operations of the drinking water companies, it will be determined in consultation with the sector which steps need to be taken for this and on what time frame this is achievable.

Discharge permits

In response to the RIVM report, Minister Harbers is also having permits adjusted for wastewater discharges. This should result in the discharges together remaining below the limit of the amount that is allowed in drinking water according to the RIVM.

Immediately it will be examined whether permits for discharges into wastewater must be adjusted so that a maximum of 4.4 nanograms per liter of PFAS is measured at the place where the drinking water is extracted. New permits must comply with this, existing permits are being tightened up, the ministry says.

New assignment

In addition, Minister Harbers and Minister Ernst Kuipers (Public Health, Welfare and Sport) will issue a new assignment to the RIVM, according to the Ministry of IenW. “The RIVM will be asked to map the ways in which PFAS enters people. And the RIVM is asked to propose measures to reduce exposure to PFAS based on this.”

UPDATE | VEWIN: FURTHER PURIFICATION FRICTION

Drinking water companies are conducting research and are committed to “fine-tuning” existing treatment processes wherever possible to reduce levels of PFAS in drinking water, says Vewin in a response. But according to the umbrella organization, this effort fundamentally conflicts with three principles: 1) PFAS does not disappear, but is displaced, 2) the polluter must pay and 3) additional water purification goes against “the European established principle that the quality of sources for drinking water must improve.