A report on PFAS compounds in nation’s waterways, Texas rivers and bays*

*  Waterkeeper Alliance Report, Executive Summary

Updated: May 5, 2023

Environmental Stewardship’s Colorado River sample taken below the City of Bastrop wastewater outfall.

During the late spring and early summer of 2022, a nationwide effort was carried out by 113 U.S. Waterkeeper groups, whose shared mission is to patrol, monitor, and protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waters from degradation. These participating Waterkeeper groups, listed  in Appendix 1 of the Final Report, collected water samples from two locations in their respective home waterways — generally one upstream and one downstream of potential source of PFAS contamination — between May 26 and July 28, 2022. A total of 228 samples were collected in 34 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.)., where U.S. Waterkeeper groups that agreed to participate in the project are located. States in which no samples were taken are listed in Appendix. To the best of our knowledge, this project constitutes the most extensive coordinated PFAS monitoring study conducted in the U.S. to date.

Environmental Stewardship and Bayou City Waterkeeper, two Texas Waterkeeper organizations, participated in the sampling effort.TTh

Environmental Stewardship sampled the Texas Colorado River below Austin, Texas, at Webberville boat ramp (river segment 1428), and below Bastrop, Texas, wastewater treatment plant (river segment 1434).  PFAS compounds were found at both sites.  

Based on these findings, Environmental Stewardship established a PFAS Sampling Project for the Texas Colorado River in Bastrop County, TX as a part of its overall Water Monitoring Project.  This project is intended to also determine the extent to which PFAS compounds have contaminated surface waters and groundwater aquifers in the county.  In our initial sampling we found PFAS contamination in 11 of 11 surface water sites.  

The Figures below show the level of PFAS contamination of the Texas Colorado River (Figure 1) and its tributaries (Figure 2) between Austin and Smithville, Tx.  The concentration levels are shown for two compounds, PFOA, PFOS, for which the EPA has proposed drinking water limits to be set at 4.o ppt (ng/L). The other is for the Total concentration of all PFAS compounds detected at each location.

Figure 1. Concentrations of PFAS compound in the Texas Colorado River below Austin (ppt, ng/L)

Figure 2. Concentration of PFAS compounds in Tributaries to the Texas Colorado River below Austin (ppt, ng/L)












How Waterkeeper Alliance and its members are handling the problem

While PFAS compounds are believed to be ubiquitous in U.S. waterways, no nationwide surface water quality survey exists. As a result, the levels and effects of PFAS are unknown for many rivers, streams, lakes, and other U.S. surface waters that serve as drinking water sources, recreational waters, and fisheries. To address this troubling lack of information about the presence of, and dangers posed by, PFAS in U.S. surface waters, Waterkeeper Alliance contracted with Cyclopure, Inc., a materials science and environmental engineering firm headquartered in Illinois, to help conduct a monitoring project in which we worked with more than 100 Waterkeeper groups across the United States on an unprecedented initiative to test U.S. surface waters for PFAS contamination.

Cyclopure provided sampling kits to all of the participating Waterkeeper groups, ran the laboratory analysis for 55 PFAS structures on each returned test kit, and generated a technical data report in September 2022, setting forth the results for each tested sample. The report is the first of its kind to provide high-quality PFAS pollution data for surface waters across the country, and confirms the prevalence of significant harmful PFAS pollution from many different compounds across diverse waterways types and geographically unique locations.

This data unequivocally demonstrates that dangerous PFAS pollution is widespread in surface waters across the country, and that existing laws and regulations have been inadequate to protect public health and the environment from this under-appreciated threat. It is apparent from the results of this project and other credible information cited herein that EPA and the states must take more urgent action to monitor waterways, adopt standards for eliminating pollution sources and cleaning up existing contamination, and enforce those standards through permitting and enforcement actions.Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

More about Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of manufactured organic chemicals that are pervasive in the environment and are linked to harmful public health and ecosystem impacts. Health risks include increased incidence of cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions.

Widely used in manufacturing since at least the 1950s, and incorporated into many industrial and common consumer products such as non-stick cooking pans, food packaging, and water- and stain-resistant clothing, PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” They are biopersistent, meaning they remain in organisms indefinitely without breaking down, and are bioaccumulative, meaning that over time, they build up in ever increasing amounts in people, wildlife, aquatic life, and the environment.

Though experts estimate that more than 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS through drinking water, EPA has yet to finalize binding, enforceable regulatory standards that protect the public and our nation’s waters, including sources of drinking water, from this serious health hazard.

As a class of chemicals, PFAS consist of approximately 9,000 different derivatives. The origins of PFAS pollution3 are well documented by EPA and other sources. PFAS contamination is found in drinking water sources (both ground and surface waters), industrial wastewater, landfill leachate, and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent. Contamination is particularly notable at airbases and airports across the country due to the historic and continued use of PFAS-laden firefighting foams.