EHS Administration, Wastewater

EPA Announces Three-Pronged Attack on PFAS in Water

On April 28, the EPA announced three actions to increase public protection against per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our nation’s waters.

The actions “advance progress under the Biden-⁠Harris Administration’s Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution by improving methods to detect PFAS in water, reducing PFAS discharges into our nation’s waters, and protecting fish and aquatic ecosystems from PFAS,” states an EPA press release. “These efforts complement the historic investment of $10 billion to address PFAS and emerging contaminants secured under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

“EPA is using all available tools to address PFAS contamination as part of a broader, whole of government effort to protect communities across the country from these chemicals,” says EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This is why we put a Strategic Roadmap in place, and why President Biden fought for billions in funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to tackle this challenge. Today’s actions help protect the health of all Americans as we deliver on our commitment to research, restrict, and remediate PFAS.”

PFAS are also known as forever chemicals because they take a very long time to break down in the environment. They have been linked to immune system deficiencies, kidney and testicular cancer, increased cholesterol levels, small decreases in infant birth weights, changes in liver enzymes, and increased risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women. PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations throughout the world. One study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found 97 percent of Americans have PFAS in their blood.

Testing for PFAS in water

The EPA has developed a new testing method, Screening Method for the Determination of Adsorbable Organic Fluorine (AOF) in Aqueous Matrices by Combustion Ion Chromatography (CIC), that screens water for the presence of PFAS at the parts-per-billion level. It works by providing an aggregate measurement of chemical substances that contain carbon-fluorine bonds.

“This new method is especially useful for understanding the presence and forms of PFAS in wastewater when used in conjunction with methods that target individual PFAS,” adds the EPA news release. “EPA’s Draft Method 1621 has successfully completed single laboratory validation. Multi-laboratory validation will take place this summer and EPA intends to publish an updated version of the method later this year.”

NPDES permitting program changes

The EPA plans to utilize the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program to proactively reduce PFAS discharges at sources, as well as utilize data obtained through this program to gain additional information.

On April 28, 2022, the Agency released the memo Addressing PFAS Discharges in EPA-Issued NPDES Permits and Expectations Where EPA is the Pretreatment Control Authority.

“This memo provides instructions for monitoring provisions, analytical methods, the use of pollution prevention, and best management practices to address discharges of PFAS,” the EPA press release continues. “These provisions will help reduce PFAS pollution in surface water as the agency aggressively embarks to promulgate effluent guidelines, multi-validated analytical methods, and water quality criteria recommendations that address PFAS compounds. EPA also plans to issue new guidance to state permitting authorities to address PFAS in NPDES permits in a future action.”

Draft limits

The Agency is proposing Clean Water Act (CWA) aquatic life criteria for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which are two of the most studied PFAS.

“The criteria are intended to protect aquatic life in the United States from short-term and long-term toxic effects of PFOA and PFOS,” the EPA news release notes. “Following the comment period, EPA intends to issue final PFOA and PFOS recommended criteria, considering public comments and any new toxicity data.  States and Tribes may consider adopting the final criteria into their water quality standards or can adopt other scientifically defensible criteria that are based on local or site-specific conditions.”

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