EPA Announces Plan to Address PFAS in Drinking Water

July 2, 2018
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The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is Taking Steps to Regulate PFAS in Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking steps to regulate the levels of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), which are also known as PFCs. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s plans at a two-day National Leadership Summit dedicated to the two chemicals.

EPA to Address Regulation of PFAs in Drinking Water

Photo courtesy of Raw Pixel (Unsplash.com)

“It’s clear that this issue is a national priority,” Pruitt told attendees, which included representatives of 35 states, 20 agencies, 3 tribes, and dozens of other interested parties. “I’ll work with you to make sure we take action and not just raise awareness over these next couple months.”

Potential Hazards Posed by PFAS

In his remarks at the summit, Pruitt acknowledged the growing concern about PFAS’s “persistence, their durability, [sic] getting into the environment and impacting communities in an adverse way.” The chemicals, which were used in non-stick products, firefighting foam, and food packaging, have been linked to cancer, low birth weight, and other health conditions.

While U.S. manufacturers no longer use the chemicals, they can still be found in many public and private water systems. In a report that coincided with the summit, EWG concluded that an estimated 1,500 U.S. drinking water systems that supply 110 million people could have levels of PFAS that exceed what EWG deems safe. In some cases, contamination is higher than the lower standard currently offered by the EPA.

While the federal government does not currently regulate PFAS, the EPA’s health guidelines recommend a health limit of 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS combined. Many states have also implemented local regulations that set lower levels. In New Jersey, where high concentrations of the chemicals have been found, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) set a “Maximum Contaminant Limit” of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA in 2017. It is currently the strictest standard in the United States.

EPA’s Four-Step PCAS Plan

At the summit, Pruitt announced that the EPA is preparing to take four “critical” steps to address PCAS. Below is the agency’s plan:

  1. EPA will initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. We will convene our federal partners and examine everything we know about PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
  2. EPA is beginning the necessary steps to propose designating PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially CERCLA Section 102.
  3. EPA is currently developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites and will complete this task by fall of this year. 
  4. EPA is taking action in close collaboration with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS.

Notably, the EPA’s plan will establish regulatory limits on the amount of PCAS allowed in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). “We will take the next step under the Safe Drinking Water Act process to evaluate the need of a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS,” Pruitt stated. “It’s something that has been talked about for a number of years. The process needs to begin. The determination of an MCL is something that we will begin in earnest.”

It is also significant that the EPA is considering categorizing the two chemicals as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law. Among other legal repercussions, bringing PCAS under CERCLA will create a federal cause of action to hold responsible parties liable for environmental remediation costs linked with PFAS releases.

What’s Next?

Given that the federal government hasn’t established any new drinking water standards in more than two decades, it is still uncertain whether the EPA’s plans will come to fruition. Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Environmental Law Group will continue to monitor the EPA’s actions on this issue and post updates as they become available.

If you have any questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.