PFAS Monitoring Set to Accelerate, Superfund Designation Expected
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) marches on with refreshed directives, some states are already taking PFAS regulatory measures into their own hands. California, New York, Maine, Vermont, Washington, Connecticut and Minnesota have all committed to a ban on PFAS in food packaging. Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), once the gold standard for firefighting suppression around the world—and now one of the most significant contributors to PFAS contamination—has airports, military bases, and local fire departments second-guessing their tactics and contemplating how to adapt.
Fortunately for states and municipalities looking to the federal government for guidance, EPA has unveiled its roadmap to the first-ever national standards for PFAS.
PFAS Roadmap Deadlines in 2022
- Publish health advisories for GenX and PFBS.
- Restrict PFAS discharges from industrial sources through a multi-faceted Effluent Limitations Guidelines program (ongoing).
- Establish a PFAS Voluntary Stewardship Program.
- Propose a national primary drinking water regulation for PFOA and PFOS.
- Publish improved analytical methods.
- Draft method for measuring additional PFAS in air emissions.
- Finalize new PFAS reporting under TSCA Section 8.
- Leverage National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting to reduce PFAS discharges to waterways.
- Publish final recommended ambient water quality criteria for PFAS.
Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Rule (UCMR 5)
There are more than 12,000 known PFAS analytes. Which of these are more likely to lead to adverse health effects in humans? Which testing method captures those PFAS best? EPA intends to answer these questions and more with its updated roadmap, but first the agency will seek more data from drinking water utilities, industrial manufacturers, wastewater treatment plants and other entities tied to the PFAS lifecycle.
Every five years, as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA releases a list of unregulated contaminants for public water systems to monitor. This process ultimately informs the regulatory process, allowing the agency to make decisions based on science.
Published at the end of 2021, the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) adds 29 PFAS analytes for drinking water utilities to monitor starting in 2023. The rule applies to all public water systems that serve more than 10,000 customers, a significant increase in the number of participating drinking water systems. Systems serving smaller communities are also included but are subject to laboratory and funding availability.
According to EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, expanding the roster of reporting water systems will “improve EPA’s ability to conduct state and local assessments of contamination, including analyses of potential environmental justice impacts.”
“This is a significant difference from monitoring PFAS under UCMR3—which was isolated to a few compounds at much higher detection limits,” said Melissa Harclerode, CDM Smith principal and discipline leader for sustainability and green cleanups. “This is a concern with utilities in that they may not only find PFAS, but didn’t previously because analytical methods have advanced since then.”
With the data provided by this rule, EPA will be able to develop better regulations...grounded in science.
Hazardous Substance Designation
Proposed rule expected Spring 2022; Final rule expected Summer 2023
EPA’s authority to hold responsible parties accountable for contamination comes from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. Remediation costs can be substantial, ranging from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Two of the most notorious PFAS analytes, PFOA and PFOS, are currently shortlisted for Superfund eligibility. If assigned as such, a national primary drinking water regulation would set enforceable limits and require monitoring of public water supplies.
A hazardous substance designation would also enhance the ability of federal, Tribal, state, and local authorities to obtain information regarding the location and extent of releases and would ensure relevant agencies can recover cleanup costs.