Protecting public health and providing our customers a safe water supply is the City of Vancouver’s top priority, and we currently meet all federal and state requirements for water quality testing. On average, we deliver 9.5 billion gallons per year of clean and safe drinking water to more than 270,000 people in a 72-square mile service area.
Vancouver, like many communities in Washington and across the nation, is addressing an emerging issue with per-and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances. In recognition of this, Vancouver proactively tested and reported PFAS levels in 2020. In 2023, the City began a new program of testing and reporting for PFAS in drinking water. We continue to share information about PFAS so that you can make informed decisions.
Since the 1940s, PFAS have been used around the world in industry and in consumer products such as food packaging, non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, and firefighting foam. These synthetic chemicals can enter the environment and water supplies from multiple sources and do not break down easily, which is why PFAS are sometimes called “forever chemicals.”
Quarterly Update – Late May 2023: Drinking water samples collected from Vancouver Water System (ID#91200) sources included detections of the following per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that were above a State Action Level (SAL) as determined by the Washington State Department of Health.
The levels of PFAS found in Vancouver’s water supply are slightly above recommended limits in state and federal guidance. The recommended limits are based on long-term exposure to PFAS throughout a person’s life and represent a conservative level at which no adverse impacts are expected over a lifetime of drinking the water, even in health-sensitive populations.
The City of Vancouver’s extensive water system has 40 wells located at nine wellfields across our community. Recent testing in late May showed that one sample result exceeded the SAL for PFAS contaminants. Those results occurred at one of the City’s nine wellfields, Water Station 14. Only one water station was above State Actions Levels.
PFOA SAL 10 ppt
PFOS SAL 15 ppt
Water Station 14
*ppt-parts per trillion (1 ppt is equivalent to a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools)
There are many different PFAS, and we are still learning about their health impacts in people.
PFOA — Some people who drink water containing PFOA in excess of the State Action Level over many years may experience problems with their cholesterol, liver, thyroid or immune system; have high blood pressure during pregnancy; have babies with lower birthweights; and be at higher risk of getting certain types of cancers.
PFOS — Some people who drink water containing PFOS in excess of the State Action Level over many years may experience problems with their cholesterol, liver, thyroid, kidney or immune systems; or have children with lower birthweights.
City Actions to Protect Water Quality
The City hired water quality experts to investigate possible sources and the extent of PFAS in the water supply and started work to identify potential treatment options. Work underway includes:
Testing the water supply: Operations staff continue to test and monitor water quality in compliance with state and federal requirements to ensure a safe water supply.
Evaluating treatment options: Water quality engineers are evaluating treatment technologies to remove PFAS from the water supply.
Finding long-term solutions: Expert scientists are investigating potential sources of PFAS and the extent of PFAS in the local groundwater supply.
Planning for the future: Future costs for PFAS treatment are included in the City’s long-range capital plans.
Reducing costs: The City is pursuing state and federal grants and loans to reduce the impact to ratepayers.
Adjusting operations: Prioritize sources of water supply with lower levels of PFAS to operate before sources with higher levels to reduce concentrations within the distribution system.
Sharing information: Up-to-date information on PFAS and test results are being shared with all customers and the public so you can make informed decisions.
Keeping You Informed
The City is committed to keeping the community informed. We will continue to share actions the City is taking to keep your water safe and provide updates as we learn more about treatment options and receive updates from federal and state authorities. Timely information and PFAS sampling results will be posted at cityofvancouver.us/pfasresults. The annual Water Quality Report is another way you can learn about the quality of the City’s water and PFAS updates.
PFAS State Action Levels / Proposed Federal Maximum Contaminant Levels
Types of PFAS
Washington Department of Health State Action Level
Proposed EPA Maximum Contaminant Level
1 based on EPA Hazard Index
1 based on EPA Hazard Index
1 based on EPA Hazard Index
HFPO-DA (commonly referred to as GenX Chemicals)
1 based on EPA Hazard Index
Note: ppt = parts per trillion (1 ppt is equivalent to a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools)
The City has been proactively engaging on this issue ahead of new federal regulations and the state’s rules and timing for compliance sampling and reporting. Below is a brief history of the City’s sampling efforts to better understand potential PFAS impacts.
2013 PFAS Sampling Non-Detectable: The City sampled for PFAS in all wells in our nine water stations and hired an independent, certified lab to test for six different PFAS. All results showed PFAS were not present at detectable levels. The City performed this testing in compliance with EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to collect data for substances that may be present in drinking water but are not yet regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Late 2020 PFAS Sampling Low Levels Detected: Although not required by federal or state standards, the City tested for PFAS in representative wells in each of our nine water stations using a newer EPA method. Low levels of PFAS were detected—below EPA’s Health Advisory Level at that time. These results were made available to the public through the City’s website as the City began more in-depth investigation of potential sources and treatment approaches.
Early 2021 PFAS Sampling Low Levels Detected: To better understand PFAS levels and potential sources, the City sampled groundwater from all operational wells. PFAS were again found at low levels—below the EPA’s Health Advisory Level at that time.
2023 PFAS Sampling: The City began a new program of quarterly sampling and reporting that meets all federal and state requirements. You can find the latest sampling results on the PFAS Sampling Results page.
Evolving Science and Regulations
Learn more as science evolves
There are thousands of types of PFAS, and public health agencies and scientists are still studying how long-term exposure to PFAS may affect people’s health. As reported by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes.
There is a lot that we do not yet know but as the science evolves so do our drinking water standards.
In 2021, the Washington State Board of Health adopted new State Action Levels for PFAS in drinking water that set conservative levels at which experts say no adverse effects are expected over a lifetime of drinking the water, even in sensitive populations. The state also requires additional sampling when results are above the State Action Level. The State Action Level does not establish a requirement for PFAS treatment at this time.
In 2023, EPA proposed a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for six types of PFAS known to occur in drinking water. The proposed rule does not require any action until finalized, but if approved would set enforceable levels of PFAS in drinking water and require public water systems to monitor for these PFAS, notify the public of the levels of these PFAS, and reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the proposed standards.
Public Health Resources
Explore additional information from partner agencies
PFAS are present in many everyday household materials including non-stick cookware, food packaging, clothing, and furniture. Minimizing exposure to PFAS will require ongoing reductions of sources of PFAS in our daily environment. If you are concerned about potential health effects from exposure to PFAS, please contact your doctor or health care professional.
Review recommendations from Washington State Department of Health
Learn about PFAS and the steps you can take to reduce your exposure to PFAS in drinking water, while we evaluate options. doh.wa.gov/pfas
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or mixing infant formula with tap water, use an alternative source for drinking or mixing infant formula or install home water treatment that is certified to lower the levels of PFAS in your water.
Boiling your water will not reduce PFAS levels.
If you have specific health concerns, consult your healthcare provider.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Vancouver’s water safe to use?
The low levels of PFAS found in Vancouver’s water supply are slightly above recommended limits in state and federal guidance. The recommended limits are based on long-term exposure to PFAS throughout a person’s life and represent a conservative level at which no adverse impacts are expected over a lifetime of drinking the water, even in health-sensitive populations. According to the Washington State Department of Health, if you have been drinking water with PFAS above a State Action Level, that does not mean you will get sick or have health problems. If you are concerned about potential health impacts from exposure to PFAS, contact your health care provider.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a large group of human-made chemicals used worldwide since the 1940s to make many water-resistant, stain-repellant, and non-stick products, as well as some firefighting foams. PFAS have been used in outdoor clothing, carpeting, upholstery, non-stick cookware, food packaging, and other common household products. The thousands of different PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily and can remain in the environment, including groundwater for a long time.
Where are PFAS found? How do they get in drinking water?
Although not naturally occurring, PFAS are widespread in the environment and have been found in the drinking water supplies of millions of Americans, including in Washington State. In general, PFAS are most commonly found near sites where industrial or consumer products with PFAS have been made or used. However, there is no known or apparent source for the PFAS found in Vancouver’s local water supply.
Is there an acceptable level of PFAS in drinking water?
There are currently no federal drinking water regulations for PFAS. In 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set new lifetime exposure Health Advisory Level guidance for PFAS until enforceable safety standards are adopted under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Washington also created State Action Levels for PFAS that outline testing and notification requirements for some water providers, including Vancouver, starting in 2023. These federal and state recommended limits are set to protect all people, including sensitive populations and life stages, from health impacts resulting from exposure to PFAS throughout their lives.
How do I know if there are PFAS in my water?
The City is actively sharing information with customers and investigating potential PFAS impacts to the water supply. We completed sampling and found low levels of PFAS in our water supply in 2020 and 2021. We are reporting information about PFAS and sampling results on the City’s website and in our Annual Water Quality Report. We will continue sharing the latest sampling results through our PFAS Sampling Results webpage so that customers can make informed decisions.
I see the concentrations of PFAS from each water station listed on your website. Can you tell me which water station my water comes from?
Vancouver has an open system that allows water to be transferred from almost any water station to different areas of the City. It is not possible to determine that any one specific area is fed from a particular water station.
What is the City doing to protect water quality?
Continuing to provide our customers with safe, high-quality drinking water is the City’s top priority. Since detecting low levels of PFAS in our local supplies, we have been working closely with water quality engineers to research possible sources and better understand potential impacts from PFAS. We are also evaluating treatment options to remove PFAS from our water supply and working to estimate the costs to design, build and operate these technologies. To plan ahead, we have included future costs for PFAS treatment in our long-range capital planning, and we are also pursuing federal and state grants and loans to reduce ratepayer impacts.
What can I do to reduce exposure to PFAS?
Most people in the U.S. have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood. If there are PFAS in your water above recommended limits, you can reduce exposure by installing a water filter with activated carbon or reverse osmosis membranes or by using an alternate source for drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula. If you have specific health concerns about PFAS exposure, we encourage you to consult your health care provider. More information is also available from the Washington State Department of Health.
What are the health concerns with PFAS?
The science around health impacts from PFAS exposure is still evolving and there is active research underway to learn more. Some studies suggest long-term exposure to high levels of PFAS may lead to increased cholesterol levels, increases in high-blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreases in immune response, changes in liver function and increases in certain types of cancer. You can learn more from the Washington State Department of Health or by consulting with your health care provider.
Can I boil my water to get rid of PFAS?
No, heating or boiling water does not remove PFAS.
Should I still breastfeed? What about using tap water to mix infant formula?
If PFAS are above state action levels in your drinking water, we recommend that you install a filter or switch to an alternative source of drinking water and continue to breastfeed your baby. If no alternative source is available, it is recommended that you continue to breastfeed. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “even though some environmental contaminants like PFAS pollutants pass to the infant through breast milk, the advantages of breastfeeding greatly outweigh the potential risks in nearly every circumstance.”
If PFAS are above recommended limits in your tap water, we recommend that you install a filter or switch to an alternative source of water to mix your infant’s formula. Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about PFAS and breastfeeding.
Is tap water safe for washing dishes and bathing?
Yes, skin contact with water from activities like washing dishes, doing laundry, showering and bathing are not significant sources of exposure to PFAS.
Where can I get more information?
This webpage and the PFAS Sampling Results page offer a variety of details to learn more about actions the City is taking to keep your water safe and to find resource links to additional information. The City will continue to keep the community informed as we learn more about treatment options and receive updates from federal and state authorities.