The EPA set in motion establishing a maximum contaminant level for two of the most well-known chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, by the end of 2019.
Andrew Wheeler, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator, unveiled the agency’s PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) action plan to address growing concerns around tainted drinking water and groundwater nationwide during a news conference on February 14 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In his address, Wheeler indicated the EPA will propose a regulatory determination, which is the next step in the Safe Drinking Water Act process, for establishing a federal maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) by the end of 2019. Wheeler also said the agency would continue its enforcement actions, clarify remediation strategies, expand monitoring of PFAS in the environment, and enhance the research and science for addressing the contaminants by developing new analytical methods and tools. The EPA’s current health advisory level for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion.
NGWA applauds the EPA’s decision to move forward with the MCL process for PFOA and PFOS and urges the agency to rely on sound science to make the determination as promptly as is feasible. Moving toward establishing an MCL will provide the national certainty required to ensure effective cleanup at sites around the country.
“PFAS contamination is a national crisis that requires national leadership, and the EPA’s announcement is an important step in providing that leadership,” said Lauren Schapker, government affairs director at NGWA. “As the EPA begins implementation of the PFAS management plan, NGWA will continue to work with the agency to address the unique challenges facing rural areas and private well owners, and to ensure the technical and financial resources are made available to address the crisis.”
NGWA is also encouraged by the EPA’s announcement to set a federal MCL rather quickly as various state-level PFAS issues could be better addressed under the new federal action plan.
“Without a federal framework, states have struggled to enforce certain PFAS-related initiatives that are of growing concern in places like Michigan, and across the eastern and northeastern regions of the country,” said Seth Kellogg, PG, senior geologist at Geosyntec Consultants Inc. and NGWA Scientists and Engineers Section Board member.
“Currently, we have a system in place that works to remediate contamination sites and protect human health but doesn’t prevent the release of PFOA and PFOS contaminants. We’ll continue to work with the EPA to help prevent future contamination and to educate the public.”
Wheeler announced the EPA’s plan in Philadelphia because some 70,000 Philadelphia-area residents were among the first in the nation to discover they had been affected by contamination for decades. PFAS is a group of human-made chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. The EPA says manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use firefighting foams are some of the main sources of the chemicals.
The announcement of the EPA’s action plan comes on the heels of several stories on PFAS making headlines across the country including the following.
- New York Senator Chuck Schumer made the case on February 4 as to why Wheeler should commit to setting an MCL under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS. Schumer argued that in failing to set a federal standard, the federal government is both limiting the public’s knowledge about their possible exposure to these contaminants and hindering potential clean-up efforts.
- Add Holloman Air Force Base in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the list of military bases and facilities throughout the country with groundwater contaminated by PFAS. In a statement on February 6, Holloman Air Force Base confirmed the chemicals came from firefighting foam, which it says stopped using in 2016.
- Negotiations over PFAS contamination in western Michigan grow tense as Wolverine World Wide — the company responsible for dumping PFAS-polluted tannery waste in the area — refuses to pay for an expansion of the municipal water system by itself. The local government says it does not have adequate funding to pay for the expansion, but Wolverine says it won’t contribute unless its chemical supplier, 3M, also contributes to the funding.
- Michigan Senator Gary Peters urged Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson on February 1 to cooperate with the state of Michigan on PFAS-decontamination efforts in the area surrounding the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County, Michigan.
- Fourteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives announced on January 23 the creation of a bipartisan congressional PFAS task force, the purpose of which will be to highlight challenges resulting from PFAS contamination and increase attention on addressing these challenges.
PFAS has been on NGWA’s radar for several years and will remain a priority issue for the foreseeable future. The Association has created a Groundwater and PFAS resource center for NGWA members. The center includes PFAS FAQs, top 10 facts about PFAS, and a homeowner checklist, among other items. NGWA is also the publisher of the guidance document, Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice.
As in 2018, NGWA is hosting educational events on PFAS this year as well:
A roundtable Q&A with industry experts on PFAS will be published in NGWA’s Water Well Journal® April issue, which focuses on water quality and water treatment. A video interview with Avram Frankel, PE, one of the experts interviewed in the Q&A, will be featured on the magazine’s website in April as well.