EPA moves forward with plan to address PFAS in drinking water

CFPUA provided a breakdown of the nearly $2 million in costs associated with GenX. (Source: WECT)
CFPUA provided a breakdown of the nearly $2 million in costs associated with GenX. (Source: WECT)
Updated: Nov. 21, 2019 at 5:54 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) -The EPA is inching forward with their plan to address forever chemicals in our water.

The agency announced forward momentum this week on efforts to eventually put a legal limit on how much PFOA and PFOS is allowed in drinking water, give the government authority to investigate spills and make companies pay if the chemicals are discharged into the environment.

All of this comes months after the EPA announced a historic plan to regulate the chemicals in February of this year.

When the plan was announced last winter, leaders said they expected a “regulatory determination” to come down by the end of the year. On Wednesday, the agency delivered on that promise.

PFOA and PFOS are man-made substances often released through industrial manufacturing that do not degrade in the environment. Those chemicals are part of a larger set of chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS have been linked to developmental issues, cancer and problems with the thyroid and liver.

The EPA has several different laws and resources it uses to manage threats to our environment. In the past, conversations about regulating PFAS have revolved around three:

1 The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

2 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)

3 Toxic Release inventory (TRI)

Each avenue has its own rules on how to proceed with adding chemicals to the list to regulate.

In February, the EPA described the PFAS action plan as the first ever national effort to crack down on PFAS and protect clean water, including the creation of legal limits in drinking water for PFOA and PFOS.

Currently, those two chemicals only have “health advisory” levels, which are not legally enforceable.

The EPA can only legally enforce how much of a chemical is allowed in the water if there is an “MCL” set. A maximum contaminant level or MCL is a legal limit on how much of a substance is allowed in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA initiated steps to evaluate the need for an MCL under what they call the “regulatory determination process.”

They look at three things to make a regulatory determination: If the chemical has adverse effects on a person’s health, if the contaminant is known to occur, and if regulation presents a real opportunity to reduce heath risks for people served by public water systems.

In February, leaders said a “regulatory determination” toward creating maximum contaminant levels will be announced by the end of 2019.

On Wednesday, leaders followed through on their word. The EPA released their Fall 2019 Regulatory Agenda and Annual Regulatory Plan which includes the regulatory determinations for PFOA and PFOS.

Having a regulatory determination enables the EPA to solicit comment and gather information to eventually make a decision about regulating the chemical and protecting communities across the nation.

“Addressing public health concerns related to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a priority for the EPA. As stated in the PFAS Action Plan, the EPA is committed to making a regulatory determination for two PFAS, perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS), two of the most studied PFAS substances,” the determination states.

According to the agenda, final action on the matter is expected by January 4, 2021.

Under CERCLA, the government gets the authority to address chemicals, including the ability to require responsible parties to carry out and pay for response actions.

Earlier this year, the EPA initiated the “regulatory development process” to designate PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA. Right now, PFOA and PFOS are considered CERCLA pollutants or contaminants, not hazardous substances.

The 2019 agenda released Wednesday includes a step forward on this front too. The effort to designate PFOA and PFOS as CERCLA Hazardous Substances has moved forward past the regulatory development process to the proposed rule stage.

The Toxic Release Inventory was developed to let people and governments know about toxic substances that might pose a health threat. Companies must disclose information on chemicals they handle if they’re on the Toxic Release Inventory list and let the EPA know how they’re disposed. Anyone can see the data on the EPA’s website.

Right now, PFAS is not on that list, but officials are working to change that.

According to the EPA, the agency sent two actions to the office of management and budget for review on September 25, 2019.

The agency’s first action was an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow the public to provide input on adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory list. According to the EPA, this was supposed to be complete in November of 2019.

The EPA made good on this promise as well on Wednesday.

Right now, the measure is still at a pre-rule stage. The process for the chemical to be listed includes notice and comment rulemaking to list PFAS chemicals for reporting.

The second action filed this fall was a supplemental proposal to ensure that certain PFAS chemicals cannot be imported into the country without notification and review by EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Under the 2016 law, the EPA has the authority to deny these requests.

The rulemaking step in the process is expected to be completed in June of 2020.

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