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PFAS and New Mexico's Public Drinking Water Systems

PFAS: What are they?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been used for a large number of purposes since the 1950s.

PFAS have been used in food packaging, cleaning products, stain resistant carpet treatments, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, among other products. Due to the widespread use of PFAS and the fact that they bioaccumulate, they are found in the bodies of people and animals all over the world, as well as ground and surface water.

PFAS contamination in New Mexico is one of the New Mexico Environment Department’s top priorities, as is the protection of human health and the environment.

Are PFAS harmful to your health?

The health effects of these emerging contaminants are still being studied, but research indicates that some PFAS may affect reproductive health, increase the risk of some cancers, affect childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, affect the immune system, and interfere with the body’s hormones.

On June 15, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released four interim drinking water health advisories for PFAS. Among the four new lifetime health advisories, two replace prior advisories for PFOA and PFOS and two were issued for the first time for Generation X and PFBS. The new EPA health advisories indicate that health effects might occur at lower levels than EPA previously thought. 

The lifetime health advisories are non-enforceable guidelines issued by EPA to provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methods, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination.

Has Drinking Water in New Mexico been tested for PFAS?

NMED has taken proactive steps to begin evaluating PFAS impacts to public water supplies in New Mexico. As part of our efforts to protect communities PFAS in public drinking water, NMED, in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) sampled drinking water supplies across the state.

This sampling effort, which started in mid-2020 and continued through mid-2021 focused on multiple ground and surface water supplies in 19 New Mexico counties. Results from 15 public water systems, as well as multiple surface water sampling locations, are available here.

Additionally, New Mexico public water systems have been sampled for PFAS under the federal Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR).

U.S. EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule

EPA uses the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to collect data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water and do not yet have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). A select number of public water systems (PWS) are sampled under the UCMR.

Testing for the Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) occurred from 2013-2015. The EPA included six PFAS chemicals in this round of testing. Among 35 water systems tested in New Mexico, UCMR3 sampling returned only a single PFAS detection for PFHpA.

Testing for the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) began in 2023 and will continue through 2025. This round of testing features 29 PFAS chemicals, including six that the EPA has proposed for drinking water regulations: PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, PFHxS, PFNA, and HFPO-DA (also known as GenX).

The initial results of UCMR5 testing were released on August 17, 2023. Of the PFAS contaminants that EPA has proposed to regulate, initial UCMR5 results indicate detections at two out of 15 PWS tested so far with PFBS and PFHxS found at one water system and PFOA at another. The initial UCMR5 data release represents approximately 7% of the total number of results that EPA will publish over the next three years. UCMR results for New Mexico are provided in the links below and UCMR5 results will be posted here as they are released.

*Note: UCMR results are provided in units of micrograms per liter (µg/L, equivalent to parts per billion). To convert results in µg/L to ng/L, multiply the value by 1,000. Click here for an EPA summary of the initial UCMR5 data release.

Are PFAS regulated in drinking water in New Mexico?

On March 14, 2023 the EPA announced a proposal to establish legally enforceable levels for six different PFAS compounds known to occur in drinking water. EPA is also proposing health-based, non-enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs). The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture. This proposal does not require any actions until after EPA considers input from the public and finalizes the regulation. For more information about this proposal, please see the fact sheet on EPA's Proposal to Limit PFAS in Drinking Water. EPA's proposed regulatory standards are as follows:

PFAS CompoundProposed
Maximum Contaminant Level
Maximum Contaminant Level Goals
PFOA4.0 ppt*0 ppt*
PFOS4.0 ppt*0 ppt*
PFNABased on Hazard Index**Based on Hazard Index**
PFHxSBased on Hazard Index**Based on Hazard Index**
PFBSBased on Hazard Index**Based on Hazard Index**
HFPO-DA (GenX)Based on Hazard Index**Based on Hazard Index**
*ppt = parts per trillion (also expressed as ng/L)
**Hazard Index is a tool used to evaluate potential health risks from exposure to chemical mixtures

The new proposed PFAS rules would also require public water systems to:

  • Regularly monitor for the six PFAS compounds noted in the table above.
  • Notify the public of the levels of these PFAS found in their regulatory samples.
  • Reduce the levels of these PFAS in drinking water if they exceed the proposed regulatory standards.

There are currently no enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS in New Mexico, so any detection at a public water system do not constitute a compliance violation at this time.

What should I do if my drinking water system has PFAS?

There are several technologies that have been proven effective in the removal of PFAS contaminants. Those technologies include Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), Ion Exchange Resin, and Reverse Osmosis (RO). If you are concerned about PFAS in your drinking water, NMED recommends you contact your local water utility to learn more about your drinking water and urge them to apply for the funding currently available for PFAS Treatment.

Available Funding for PFAS Treatment

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). As part of this historic law, the State of New Mexico will receive significant increases to its Drinking Water State Revolving Loan (DWSRF) programs over the next five years. These historic investments represent a unique opportunity to rebuild and replace New Mexico’s aging water and wastewater infrastructure and foster more resilient communities. EPA allows DWSRF funding to be used in combination with additional funding sources to finance water infrastructure projects, as well as to fund projects that will address emerging contaminants, such as PFAS.

New Mexico’s current (FY23) allotment of BIL funding includes the following:

  • DWSRF Capitalization Grant Base Funds - $7,283,200
  • DWSRF General Supplemental Funds (BIL) - $17,955,000
  • DWSRF Emerging Contaminants (PFAS) –$7,540,000

To learn more about the DWSRF funding process and to submit a pre-application visit our NMED Water Infrastructure and Funding Page. Public water systems are encouraged to take action now while the funding is available to investigate contaminants and explore treatment options if needed.

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