Prepare for the Unexpected

By Thad Plumley

What would be your first thought if you were told to suddenly stop drinking your water?

I think whether your water is from a residential well system or a municipality the hair on your neck would stand up. I know I would be consumed with fear, wondering if every ache or illness was because of that glass of water in my hand.

We believe the water we drink, cook with, and bathe in is good for us. It couldn’t possibly ever hurt us, could it?

Residents in Parchment, Michigan, a small town parked on the Kalamazoo River in the west side of the state, were suddenly asking themselves that question last July. They were shocked when local officials told them water in the area had tested at more than 20 times the recommended lifetime exposure limit for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS.

Some people put their homes up for sale. Parents with children and expecting mothers agonized what to do. Officials declared a state emergency.

Fortunately, the drinking water advisory was lifted after one month, but tensions remain high. And the people in Parchment are not alone. Stories on PFAS, a group of manmade chemicals in use since the 1940s, now dot the news on a regular basis.

Incredibly there are more than 4700 PFAS and their compounds do not break down in the environment. They can be found in everything from water-resistant clothing, food packaging materials, paints and varnishes, firefighting foams, and more.

Exposure can occur through ingestion, direct contact, and inhaling. Studies have shown 95% of the U.S. population has been exposed to PFAS and have measurable concentrations in their blood.

As a water professional, the time is now for you to live the Boy Scouts motto: Be Prepared. If you haven’t yet been asked about PFAS, understand the questions are coming.

Learn as much as you can so you can impact your local residents who may be filled with anxiety when they reach out to you.

An easy way to get started is read the PFAS Roundtable. Water Well Journal reached out to four experts to get perspectives from a water well contractor, a consultant, a state regulatory official, and a federal government affairs director. The article provides insight from every angle.

Once you’ve read the article—and the rest of the issue, of course—head to the National Ground Water Association’s website and visit its Groundwater and PFAS Resource Center. It contains a fact sheet, frequently asked questions document, and a homeowner’s checklist you can share with people in your community.

NGWA is a PFAS leader. It has produced the guidance document Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice, will host multiple learning events on the subject this year, and is active in Washington, D.C., where PFAS are currently residing front and center in our nation’s capital.

Remember, a call is most likely coming your way. It’s critical you know what to do.

Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at and on Twitter @WaterWellJournl.