EPA Proposes to Regulate PFOAs and PFOS in Drinking Water

On February 20th, EPA Announced  it will make a regulatory determination (RD) for two emerging contaminants-perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)- under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) as part of its fourth Contaminant Candidate List. This is the first step in determining whether PFOA and PFOS should be regulated under the SDWA. EPA is also seeking comments on regulatory approaches for other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

An RD is a decision about whether or not to begin the process to propose and promulgate a national primary drinking water regulation (NPDWR) for an unregulated contaminant. In an RD, EPA sets forth its views about if certain unregulated contaminants meet three statutory criteria. In proposing this RD , EPA found that these substances meet the three statutory criteria:  (1)  PFOA and PFOS may have an adverse effect on human health;(2) that PFOA and PFOS occur in Public Water Systems (PWS) with a frequency and at levels of public health concern; and (3) that regulation of PFOA and PFOS presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by PWS.

Under the SDWA, if EPA makes a positive RD  for PFOS or PFOA, it will have 24 months to publish proposed Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) and MCL  or issue a treatment technique much like it has done with the lead and copper rule. Once EPA proposes its action, it has another 18 months to finalize the rule.

If EPA decides to issue MCLs for PFOA, PFOS, and/or other PFAS chemicals, PWSs could be required to monitor for these contaminants. In the RD, EPA says it may seek to minimize the monitoring burden on water systems while assuring public health protection. Minimizing the monitoring burden to the maximum extent feasible and allowed by statute could reduce costs for drinking water systems that have other important risk-reduction resource demands. The EPA is considering alternative approaches for this monitoring that reduce monitoring frequency for systems that are reliably and consistently below the MCL or do not detect the contaminant.

If EPA promulgates MCLs for PFOA or PFOS, these standards could become Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements (ARARs) under the federal superfund program.  ARARs are used in the federal superfund program to develop preliminary remediation goals and to ensure that final cleanup standards are protective of human health and the environment. This means that any federal MCLs for PFOS or PFOA would be considered along with standards or guidance of the state where the superfund is located during the remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) remedy selection process.

PFAS are found in a wide array of consumer and industrial products. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, facilities using PFAS in production of other products, airports, and military installations have been associated with PFAS releases into the air, soil, and water. PFOS and PFOA—two of the most widely-studied and longest-used PFAS and have been detected in up to 98% of serum samples taken in biomonitoring studies that are representative of the U.S. general population.

The pre-publication copy of the proposed regulatory determination may be viewed Here

Other recent actions taken by EPA as part of its PFAS Action plan are:

  • On February 20, 2020, EPA issued a supplemental proposal to ensure that new uses of certain persistent long-chain PFAS chemicals in surface coatings cannot be manufactured or imported into the United States without notification and review under TSCA.
  • On December 19, 2019, EPA accomplished a key milestone in the PFAS Action Plan by publishing a new validated method to accurately test for 11 additional PFAS in drinking water bringing the total to 29 PFAS.
  • On December 19, 2019, EPA issued  Interim Recommendations for Addressing Groundwater Contaminated with PFOA and PFOS, which provide guidance for federal cleanup programs (e.g., the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) that will also be helpful to states and tribes.
  • On November 22, 2019, EPA announced availability of $4.8 million in funding for new research on managing PFAS in agriculture.
  • On November 25, 2019, EPA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow the public to provide input on adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory toxic chemical list

EPA also issued an Update to its PFAS Action plan on February 26th..


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