An Update on the Push for Federally Mandated Drinking Water Standards for PFAS

January 19, 2021
U.S. Capitol

While we still await action on an enforceable national standard for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today it is initiating the process to develop a national primary drinking water regulation for PFOS and PFOA, the most well-known PFAS compounds.

According to the EPA press release, the agency is issuing actions such as:

  • Moving forward on regulating PFOA and PFOS in drinking water by issuing final regulatory determinations
  • Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing PFOA and PFOS in the environment
  • Collecting new data on PFAS in drinking water under the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5)
  • Releasing a toxicity assessment for PFBS, or perfluorobutane sulfonic acid
  • Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking collecting data and information regarding manufacturers of PFAS and the presence and treatment of PFAS in discharges from their facilities
  • Coordinating PFAS research and the human health effects with other federal government agencies

While we’ve seen states like New Jersey and Michigan develop actual enforceable standards for reducing PFAS in drinking water, it remains to be seen whether—or when—the federal EPA will follow suit. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the EPA’s announcement today was long overdue and only promises a long legal process rather than immediate action. The EPA actually announced its PFAS Action Plan back in February 2019, but its official guidance on PFAS still remains the non-enforceable lifetime health advisory, which is 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for limited combined exposure to PFOS and PFOA.

More About PFAS

PFAS are more commonly known as the “forever chemicals” due to the fact that they can take a long time to break down and therefore continue to persist in the environment, in water and ultimately in our bodies. Since the 1940s they have been used widely in manufacturing due to their chemical stability for industrial uses. Today many manufacturers have either already phased out or begun to phase out the use of PFAS chemicals, but the contaminants are likely to continue to exist in our environment for many years to come.

According to the EWG, PFOA, PFOS and other PFAS chemicals are known to contribute to:

  • Testicular, kidney, liver and pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive problems
  • Weakened childhood immunity
  • Low birth weight
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Weight gain

For more information, check out our conversation with the Water Environment Federation at WEFTEC 2019 where Chris Savino, regional sales manager, and Tyler Butel, now vice president of sales, discuss the emergence of PFAS as a hot topic, the many questions about what they are and how concerned we should be, and the water treatment methods available to remove PFAS from water.

 

Photo by Jonathan Kendrick from FreeImages

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