Oregon will receive nearly $19 million in federal funds to address emerging contaminants in drinking water systems.
The $18.9 million investment through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be spent testing drinking water for contaminants, known or emerging, and neutralizing pollutants.
EPA’s Bill Dunbar says certain pervasive chemicals are on the radar. “PFAS stands for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances,” he said. “These substances have been a part of the industrial process for many, many years. They’re found in all sorts of consumer products. Also, very frequently found in firefighting foam.”
The EPA cites scientific studies which have shown exposure to some PFAS may be linked to harmful health effects in people and animals.
Dunbar says another contaminant of great concern in Oregon’s drinking water is harmful algal blooms and the cyanotoxins they produce.
Dunbar said harmful algal blooms have occurred in Oregon far more frequently over the last decade or so. As climate change has sped up, water is warmer longer which allows cyanotoxins to expand and last for a longer period of time. When they enter a drinking water system, it is very dangerous.
“Cyanotoxins can kill people. They can kill animals. And it’s very expensive to deal with and test for,” Dunbar said. “And it’s expensive to a water utility when they have to shut down an intake and find a alternative source of water. So, this money will help water suppliers test for and deal with this emerging issue of cyanotoxins.”
The millions in funding will be made available as grants with a focus on Oregon’s small, rural and disadvantaged communities. But Dubar added, “anyone who drinks water in Oregon will benefit.”
Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden were instrumental in achieving the state’s allocation of funding from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The legislation invests $5 billion over five years to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS contamination to reduce PFAS in drinking water.
The EPA announced the funds for Oregon as part of an allotment of $2 billion to states and territories that can be used to prioritize infrastructure and source water treatment for pollutants, like PFAS and other emerging contaminants, and to conduct water quality testing.