WEST DES MOINES, IOWA — West Des Moines Water Works is joining a multi-state lawsuit that seeks to hold the manufacturers of so-called ‘forever chemicals’ accountable for the cost of removing the contaminants from drinking water. The legal action comes as the federal government lowers the allowable level of those chemicals in drinking water to a fraction of its former accepted levels.

At the center of the issue is contamination from PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t degrade overtime. PFAS are manmade chemicals that have used for decades in cookware, firefighting foams and other products. The cost of testing for these chemicals and removing them from drinking water falls on utilities and their customers. Those costs could soon be rising for utilities thanks to a change in rules from the EPA.

According to WDMWW, in late 2021 the EPA had limits of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) as acceptable levels for one certain PFAS. Those limits are now being lowered to .004 ppt for one chemical – that is 1/17,500th of the former level. WDMWW says current industry testing limits are 1.9 ppt – meaning utilities aren’t capable of even achieving the new federal standards at this time.

The increase in contamination from PFAS nationwide will likely lead to an upgrade in testing capabilities as well as other infrastructure spending for utilities nationwide. The lawsuit that WDMWW is joining seeks to put some of the cost of those upgrades on the sources of the pollution.

“The EPA’s recently announced health advisories with much lower detectable thresholds mean
that even a trace amount of PFAS is too much when it comes to protecting our drinking water,” WDMWW General Manager Christina Murphy said in a news release, “We anticipate that addressing PFAS will be challenging, protracted and costly, and the trustees agreed that we need to avail ourselves of any and all resources that will help address the effects to our drinking water infrastructure, including legal action.”

The law firms that WDMWW is working with are taking the case on a contingency basis, according to the utility, so there will be no “out-of-pocket fees.”