EPA announces “historic” plan to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals, CFPUA voices support

Updated: Feb. 14, 2019 at 7:52 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Thursday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a detailed action plan to address the group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which includes GenX.

EPA's Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler branded the release as the "first-ever comprehensive nationwide" effort to crack down on PFAS compounds to ensure clean drinking water, calling the announcement "historic" in a press conference.

One big step announced was the eventual creation of legal limits in drinking water for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most prevalent PFAS chemicals. A “regulatory determination” toward creating maximum contaminant levels (MCL) will be announced by the end of 2019, said Wheeler.

"Throughout recent engagements, the EPA heard clearly the public’s desire for immediate action to address potential human health and economic impacts from PFAS in the environment," EPA writes in the action plan.

In the 72-page document, EPA outlined its plans for PFAS including setting maximum drinking water levels, improving cleanup strategies, prohibiting environmental release, improved monitoring, research, stricter enforcement, and communicating the chemicals’ risks to the public.

PFAS have been used worldwide since the 1940's and are found in food packaging, cleaners, water-resistant coatings, carpets, electronics, firefighting foams, and many more consumer and industrial products. When accidentally ingested through food or water long-term, health effects include cancer, liver damage, low birth weight, thyroid problems, cholesterol issues and more.

Final toxicity levels of GenX are expected to be finalized this year, according to the action plan.

EPA said more research is needed to understand the human health impacts of eating game animals and fish exposed to PFAS in nature.

“In the long term, the EPA plans to work to identify species which are sensitive or susceptible to PFAS exposure,” the plan reads.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA), which provides drinking water to customers in Southeastern North Carolina, released a statement supporting the EPA’s move to further regulate PFAS.

"It's a great first step, and I'm glad to see the government taking it seriously," said Jim Flechtner, CFPUA Executive Director.

In particular, CFPUA praised the move to create federal limits on PFOA and PFOS, because currently those two chemicals only have "health advisory" levels, which are not legally enforceable.

"By contrast, an MCL is a legal limit on the concentration of a substance allowed in public drinking water under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)," CFPUA wrote in a press release.

CFPUA regularly tests drinking water treated at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant for concentrations of PFAS compounds, including PFOA and PFOS. The latest water results revealed PFOA at 3.18 ppt and PFOS at 4.31 ppt, according to the press release.

Flechtner said regulation will help hold companies like Chemours accountable for discharging chemicals in the environment.

“There should be standards for [PFAS], so that communities such as ours don’t have negative impacts from companies upstream that discharge them into the environment,” said Flechtner.

NC Governor Roy Cooper issued a statement expressing concern that the EPA’s plan does not do enough and did not act quickly enough.

“North Carolina needs strong leadership from the EPA on water quality and I am disappointed that the agency’s action plan does not commit to setting standards, lacks detail on what research is planned on specific compounds like GenX, and seems to ignore the urgency of the problem,” Gov. Cooper said. “Today’s announcement contradicts promises made in public meetings in North Carolina last summer to work swiftly to set standards and recommendations for these compounds. People deserve to have confidence in the water they drink, and this weak action by the EPA negatively impacts state efforts to protect water quality and public health.”

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