DHEC testing waterways for dangerous ‘forever chemicals’

South Carolina officials are working to find out how safe your drinking water is.
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 3:28 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 10:15 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina officials are working to find out how safe your drinking water is.

For the first time in history, the environmental protection agency is putting limits on how much of harmful chemicals called PFAS are allowed in drinking water supplies. The official limits will be released at the end of this year.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products to repel water and oil, and they often end up in the trash and trickle down into the environment.

They are often called ‘forever chemicals.’ The chemicals are measured in nanograms, or one billionth of a gram per liter. Officials say ingesting too much of them is linked to diseases.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing no more than 4 nanograms per liter each for two PFAS chemicals called PFOA and PFOS. These numbers are subject to change.

South Carolina DHEC is testing drinking water supplies, as well as surface water. The regulations apply only to drinking water. DHEC is testing all those waterways to get an idea of the chemicals in the state.

“It is important to note that some of the larger community water systems withdraw water from surface water like our rivers and lakes,” Jennifer Hughes, Bureau of Water chief at DHEC says.

The most recent data from 2022 shows a test site on the Ashley River had the highest amount of PFOS chemicals in the Santee River Basin. In the fall of 2022, the site showed 27 nanograms per liter of PFOS and in the winter of 2022 it showed 17 nanograms per liter of PFOS.

The site’s PFOA readings were both under 4 nanograms per liter. At the second Ashley River testing site, the fall and winter collection showed all the PFAS chemicals to be under 4 nanograms per liter.

Along three Cooper River test sites, PFAS levels ranged from 1.8 to 8.3 nanograms per liter.

“PFAS have been detected at nearly all surface water sites though the concentration are highly variable. This is an important project objective here. We want to provide this data to better inform potential impacts to drinking water sources,” Matt Baumann PhD, an environmental scientist at DHEC says.

Myra Reece, director of environmental affairs at DHEC, says reading the waterways is an important part of the drinking water compliance research.

“If we see some areas of the state, some of our waterways have elevated levels, is there something going on there that’s very localized and that’s when we really drill down to what are some potential sources what are some ways that we can reduce those levels of these chemicals in our waterways which ultimately could lead to drinking water,” Reece says.

The state has an interactive map of all their testing sites, including two on the Ashley River, three on the Cooper River, the Goose Creek Reservoir and two Cypress Swamp locations.

DHEC says this data will help guide their compliance efforts in the coming year.