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EPA's PFAS Action Plan

The EPA's official strategy for handling this group of emerging contaminants includes proposed actions that could be implemented over the next several years.

Earlier this year, the Envi­ron­men­tal Protection Agency (EPA) released its strategy to address per- and poly­flu­o­ri­nated compounds (PFAS) in the form of a 70-page action plan.  In the document, EPA declared that it will be taking a "proactive, cross-agency approach to addressing PFAS." While expressing a commitment to inves­ti­gat­ing these potentially hazardous compounds, an official maximum contaminant level (MCL) does not yet exist on a national level. So, what does the new action plan mean for stake­hold­ers? PFAS compounds are still classified as emerging cont­a­m­i­nants, which means federal regulation, if proposed, will not happen overnight. Following is a list of commonly asked questions about the EPA Action Plan: 

What exactly is in the EPA’s latest PFAS Action Plan?

The Action Plan provides a summary of EPA’s ongoing strategy to address the potential threat of PFAS, specif­i­cally emphasizing cont­a­m­i­nants in that family called PFOA and PFOS. The plan includes a series of recom­men­da­tions for further study, while adhering to the Safe Drinking Water Act. As viewed by EPA, the approach to fighting PFAS cont­a­m­i­na­tion will include support from other federal agencies, states, tribes, and local communities in the development of sampling, measurement, and treatment tools. 

What enforcement actions, if any, can EPA take to remediate sites cont­a­m­i­nated with PFAS?

Currently, EPA has not issued official regulations governing safe thresholds of PFAS exposure, typically referred to as “maximum contaminant  levels” (MCLs). If the agency identifies an “imminent and substantial endan­ger­ment to public health,” it says it will consider using its response authority as dictated by the Compre­hen­sive Envi­ron­men­tal Response, Compen­sa­tion, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as Superfund.  

One such example includes the decision to pursue the regulatory development process for listing PFOA and PFOS as "hazardous substances," which would help facilitate cleanup and recover costs from responsible parties.  

Do we know when federal regulations, if any, would be enacted?

No, EPA has not committed to following a set schedule for addressing its list of priority actions regarding PFAS. There are still several steps before any potential federal MCLs could be released.

Does the Action Plan affect the EPA’s health advisory issued in 2016?

The EPA health advisory still stands at 70 parts per trillion (ppt).

With no current MCLs issued for PFAS at the federal level, does that mean there are none at the state level, as well?

Individual states have the right to set PFAS regulations as they see fit. Acceptable exposure thresholds vary, with New Jersey currently enforcing the strictest to date at 10 ppt. According to the Association of State Drinking Water Admin­is­tra­tors (ASDWA), other states with PFAS-related regulations below the EPA health advisory include: California, Connecticut, Mass­a­chu­setts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Vermont.

What action, if any, should stake­hold­ers be taking to address the discovery of PFAS at a local level?

Our experts are here to help! Whether or not you need to take immediate action, it’s important to have a plan in place. Start building your own action plan today by reaching out to one or more of our PFAS experts, including Dora Chiang, Charles Schaefer, and Melissa Harclerode.

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