Chemicals, Enforcement and Inspection

The EPA’s New PFAS Analytic Tools

The EPA unveiled new website tools, the PFAS Analytic Tools, this month.  Designed to help the “public, researchers, and other stakeholders better understand potential PFAS sources in their communities,” the tools provide “multiple sources of information in one spot with mapping, charting, and filtering functions,” which allows the public to see where testing has been done and what levels of detection were measured, an EPA news release states.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals that include chemicals known as PFOS, PFOA, and GenX. There are nearly 5,000 types of PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

They have been produced by a variety of industries since 1940 for use in water and stain repellant materials, as well as fast-acting firefighting products. These chemicals are also found in paint, nonstick Teflon, cleaning products, and food packaging materials. PFAS are known for their ability to repel oil and water and are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistent nature in both the human body and the environment.

“EPA’s PFAS Analytic Tools webpage brings together for the first-time data from multiple sources in an easy-to-use format,” John Dombrowski, director of the EPA’s Office of Compliance, says in the EPA news release. “This webpage will help communities gain a better understanding of local PFAS sources.”

Multiple national databases and reports are consolidated within the PFAS Analytic Tools webpage, and it includes information about:

  • Clean Water Act (CWA) PFAS discharges from permitted sources
  • Reported spills containing PFAS constituents
  • Facilities historically manufacturing or importing PFAS
  • Federally owned locations where PFAS are being investigated
  • Transfers of PFAS-containing waste
  • PFAS detection in natural resources such as fish or surface water
  • Drinking water testing results

The tools cover a broad list of PFAS and represent the EPA’s ongoing efforts to provide the public with access to the growing amount of available testing information.

The rollout of this tool is part of the PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024, announced in 2021 as part of a multiagency frontal assault to address pollution from PFAS.

The regulatory framework for PFAS chemicals is still developing. Just last year, the EPA added several new PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI); released four drinking water health advisories for PFAS; and proposed regulations to designate two PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). These actions will provide the EPA with significant new information on PFAS that will eventually be available on the PFAS Analytic Tools webpage.

Due to the changing nature of PFAS regulations, users of the PFAS Analytic Tools are advised to “pay close attention to the caveats found within the site so that the completeness of the data sets is fully understood,” according to the Agency news release.

The Agency has chosen to publish information on PFAS as it becomes available rather than waiting for the availability of complete national data. Users should be aware that some of the data sets are complete at the national level, whereas others are not.

“For example, EPA has included a national inventory for drinking water testing at larger public water utilities,” the EPA news release adds. “That information was provided between 2013-2016. To include more recent data, EPA also compiled other drinking water datasets that are available online in select states. For the subset of states and tribes publishing PFAS testing results in drinking water, the percentage of public water supplies tested varied significantly from state to state. Because of the differences in testing and reporting across the country, the data should not be used for comparisons across cities, counties, or states.”

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires the EPA to issue a list of unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems every five years. In December 2021, the EPA published the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), which will provide new data gathered between 2023 and 2025 to improve the EPA’s understanding of the frequency that 29 PFAS (and lithium) are found in the nation’s drinking water systems and at what levels. This expansion will bring the number of drinking water PFAS samples collected by regulatory agencies into the millions.

“EPA will continue working toward the expansion of data sets in the PFAS Analytic Tools as a way to improve collective knowledge about PFAS occurrence in the environment,” continues the Agency news release.

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