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“Forever chemicals” detected in Park City groundwater, state and federal regulations expected later this year


PFAS levels detected in Park City are above recently released EPA health advisory thresholds, but those thresholds are incredibly low. Park City drinking water is still safe.

Here’s a mouthful for you: polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Called PFAS for short, the Environmental Protection Agency says these chemicals are found in thousands of products many people use on a daily basis.

The Park City Council received a drinking water update at last week’s meeting and was made aware that PFAS have been detected in the city’s ground water.

PFAS exist almost everywhere – in water, the air and in the ground – and they’re just starting to be understood by scientists. PFAS are also called “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down in nature. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals and studies have shown that exposure to some may be linked to harmful health effects.

Park City Water Quality and Treatment Manager Michelle De Haan told the council that the PFAS levels detected in Park City are above recently released EPA health advisory thresholds, but those thresholds are incredibly low. Park City drinking water is still safe.

Health advisory thresholds for PFAS are at 0.02 parts per trillion and lower. For comparison, the EPA deems the maximum acceptable level of cyanide in drinking water to be 0.2 parts per million, much higher than current PFAS advisory levels.

De Haan said although the chemicals have been detected, there is no immediate cause for concern. Park City will know more once the EPA releases official maximum PFAS levels later this year.

“We don’t know yet what the concentrations that we have are going to be above or below that new maximum contaminant level," she said. "The health advisory does not equal the maximum contaminant level. That work is still coming out in the fall.”

Although PFAS are found in many consumer and industrial products like non-stick pans and special foams used to fight fires, ski wax is the likely culprit of PFAS in Park City.

Introduced to the ski world over three decades ago, fluorocarbon wax was deemed a miracle product, providing unmatched speed for alpine and cross-country skiers around the world. When applied properly, fluorocarbon wax creates a moisture and dirt-repelling barrier between your base and the snow, decreasing friction and increasing speed.

Fluorocarbon wax was banned by the International Ski Federation in 2021, and wax manufacturers eliminated those products.

According to a staff report, White Pine Touring no longer uses fluorocarbon wax and Park City Councilor Max Doilney said his shop, Corner Sports, stopped selling fluorocarbons several years ago. He said many, if not all other shops in the area have stopped selling them too.

Mayor Nann Worrel said Park City will now wait for federal and state guidance.

“This is all very, very new," said Worel. "The EPA is just coming out with some guidelines about that. Once those guidelines come out then the state has to come in with theirs and we come into compliance with that, so this is new.”

In a statement this week, the Utah Department of Drinking Water said it was “committed to supporting water systems if in the future action is needed.”

The EPA also announced that it is opening up applications for $1 billion in funding to address PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water. The $1 billion is the first of $5 billion set aside for drinking water in the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last November.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.