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PFAS in Tennessee – An Emerging Concern for Water Quality (with Erin Kanzig from River Network)

September 21, 2022

PFAS in Tennessee – An Emerging Concern for Water Quality

with Erin Kanzig from River Network



You may never have heard of PFAS, but this emerging contaminant is getting more and more attention. Although it’s considered “emerging”, it’s actually a chemical pollutant that has been around for decades, and remains in the environment as a “forever chemical”. Research now links PFAS to many health issues and the public discourse around PFAS is increasing. Policies for PFAS regulation are becoming increasingly prevalent at the state level, while the federal government is developing its own framework for action.

There is no regulation for PFAS in drinking water in Tennessee. However, according to the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation’s website, they are “taking steps” including developing an interdisciplinary working group in coordination with the Department of Health. In 2015 and 2016, TDEC sampled finished drinking water from 136 water systems and only found 2 to have detectable concentrations of PFAS above the Minimum Reporting Level (MRL). Sites in Tennessee that tested high for PFAS were often associated with military bases where a special firefighting foam that contained PFAS was used in trainings to extinguish fires. In Middle Tennessee, PFAS recently made headlines after the City of Murfreesboro sued Middle Point Landfill due to discharge that contains PFAS making its way into the nearby Stones River. (The lawsuit was announced after the recording of this episode).

In this River Talk, we are joined by Erin Kanzig who is the River Programs Policy and Research Associate at River Network and based in Detroit, Michigan. River Network is a national nonprofit that empowers and unites people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain all life. In this conversation, Erin helps us navigate the current PFAS landscape including regulations, health advisories, and federal funding.

What You Can Do:

  • Limit your exposure to PFAS by purchasing products made without the chemical.
  • Reverse osmosis filters have been shown to be effective at removing it from drinking water at home. These can be purchased and installed. (EPA and Duke University)
  • Advocate for PFAS to no longer be manufactured.
  • Ensure investment in the water infrastructure to protect the entire water system from PFAS.

About Erin Kanzig:

Erin earned her BA in Sociology and Environmental Studies from Whitman College, where she became interested in understanding the intricate, complex, and challenging relationships humans have with the natural world. Upon graduating she moved to Detroit, MI, a city that has been reckoning with environmental justice issues for years. Seeking to return to environmental work and have an impact on policy issues, Erin returned to Oregon for graduate school. During her time pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at Oregon State University she worked at the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to research and evaluate the permitting processes for flood water infrastructure. She has since worked on policy research projects related to environmental justice, energy accessibility, and governmental Covid-19 responses. With River Network, Erin serves as a researcher, writer, and connector, creating a hub of information about state policies and advocacy efforts related to clean, affordable drinking water that’s accessible for all.

In this Podcast:

  • The basics of PFAS including how it gets into our water systems and the health implications.
  • National PFAS policy and regulations.
  • How recent funding through the American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill can address PFAS.
  • State PFAS policy and a deep dive into New Hampshire.
  • A look at ingredients of success for communities to address PFAS.

Learn more about the resources mentioned in this episode: