EPA Issues Near Zero Drinking Water Health Advisories for Certain PFAS

On June 15, 2022, the US Environmental Safety Company (EPA) launched ingesting water well being advisories [1] for sure per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ensuing within the institution of:

  1. Near zero up to date interim advisory ranges for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that aren’t solely orders of magnitude under beforehand established ranges, however which can be additionally under detectable ranges and, notably, have been issued prematurely of completion of peer evaluation by EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB); and

  2. Newly issued last advisories at low ranges for GenX and PFBS chemical compounds which were used as alternative chemical compounds for PFOA and PFOS.

Whereas these well being advisories aren’t binding or enforceable, their issuance poses new compliance challenges with far-reaching implications for a broad spectrum of the regulated group and affected stakeholders. These embody:

  • States are actually confronted with figuring out whether or not to replace ingesting water requirements primarily based on the brand new advisory ranges, as some have finished with prior EPA PFOA and PFOS well being advisories.

  • Municipalities and ingesting water utilities charged with monitoring and remedy of PFAS in ingesting water should decide applicable ranges of testing and remedy for PFOA and PFOS, in addition to methods to talk threat to their clients.

  • Personal events and authorities entities cleansing up PFAS at contaminated websites should now decide whether or not to revisit preliminary remediation targets the place prior PFOA and PFOS ingesting water well being advisories have been used, creating the potential for disruption, added complexity, and prices if site-specific cleanup ranges are drastically decreased. [2]  

  • Producers of merchandise that will comprise these chemical compounds could now face elevated scrutiny and litigation dangers, together with for the disposal of returned or out of date merchandise with low ranges of those PFAS.

Background

Beneath the Protected Drinking Water Act, for contaminants that aren’t at the moment topic to an enforceable nationwide major ingesting water regulation, EPA is allowed to offer ingesting water well being advisories to tell the general public of the focus ranges of those contaminants in ingesting water that aren’t anticipated to trigger adversarial well being results over specified publicity durations. EPA points a last well being advisory upon completion of a last well being results evaluation and an interim well being advisory when a contaminant’s well being results evaluation has not been finalized however the company considers that there’s a urgent want to offer data to public well being officers. Whereas these focus ranges are advisory, they affect numerous federal and state insurance policies and have vital implications for the regulated group.

Up to date and New Advisories

In its June 15 launch, EPA established the next interim up to date lifetime ingesting water well being advisories:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): 0.004 ppt.

  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS): 0.02 ppt.

These ranges are orders of magnitude under the 70 ppt ranges beforehand established by EPA for PFOA and PFOS in 2016 and counsel EPA could also be shifting in the direction of concluding that there isn’t a secure degree of those substances in ingesting water. As well as, these ranges are additionally far under the focus limits for PFOA and PFOS included in rules adopted in a number of states that have been significantly decrease than EPA’s former 70 ppt advisory degree, corresponding to Michigan (8 ppt most contaminant degree for PFOA) and New Hampshire (15 ppt most contaminant degree for PFOS). 

In its launch, EPA notes that it’s basing the up to date PFOA and PFOS well being advisories on suppression of vaccine response (decreased serum antibody concentrations) in kids and that most cancers analyses are ongoing for each PFOA and PFOS. [3] EPA has defined that it’s issuing these interim well being advisories in keeping with its duty to guard public well being in gentle of recent scientific data however acknowledges that the advisories are primarily based on draft well being assessments for PFOA and PFOS that aren’t last and are at the moment present process evaluation by the SAB. [4]

EPA additional acknowledges that “[b]ased on current methods, the health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS are below the level of both detection (determining whether or not a substance is present) and quantitation (the ability to reliably determine how much of a substance is present). This means that it is possible for PFOA or PFOS to be present in drinking water at levels that exceed health advisories even if testing indicates no level of these chemicals” (emphasis added). [5] Whereas EPA has underscored that it plans to answer the SAB’s feedback because it develops Most Contaminant Stage Objectives (MCLGs) later this yr, it has additionally signaled that “[b]ecause the available health effects data indicate a number of different adverse impacts resulting from exposure to very low levels of PFOA or PFOS, the health-based water values (health advisories and MCLGs) are likely to remain below detection limit” (emphasis added). [6]

EPA additionally finalized the lifetime well being advisories for the next PFAS substances:

  • Hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (known as GenX chemical compounds): 10 ppt. EPA set this degree primarily based on animal toxicity research that reported well being results within the liver, kidney, immune system, improvement, and most cancers. EPA’s foundation for the ultimate well being advisory for GenX is a liver impact. EPA notes that, whereas there’s “suggestive evidence” of carcinogenic potential of oral publicity to GenX chemical compounds, information are “insufficient” right now to derive a most cancers threat focus in water for GenX.[7]

  • Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its associated compound potassium perfluorobutane sulfonate (known as PFBS): 2,000 ppt. EPA set this degree primarily based on animal toxicity research that reported well being results on the thyroid, reproductive system, improvement, and kidney. EPA’s foundation for the ultimate well being advisory for PFBS is a thyroid impact. EPA notes that it couldn’t consider potential most cancers results as a result of there aren’t any recognized research evaluating most cancers results from PFBS publicity. [8]

In line with EPA, “the health advisory levels for GenX chemicals and PFBS are above the detection and quantitation levels, and therefore can be reliably measured using specified analytical methods in appropriate laboratory settings.” [9]

These PFAS well being advisories are a part of EPA’s broader efforts to handle PFAS as outlined in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Dedication to Motion 2021-2024 (see our recent coverage of EPA’s Roadmap). Within the PFAS Strategic Roadmap, EPA signaled that it anticipated to problem last ingesting water well being advisories for GenX and PFBS within the spring of 2022, which it has now finished. EPA additionally famous that, whereas it had regulated greater than 90 ingesting water contaminants, it had not established nationwide ingesting water rules for any PFAS. Assuming that EPA’s anticipated schedule of fall of 2022 for a proposed rule and fall of 2023 for a last rule is met, the interim ingesting water well being advisories for PFOA and PFOS can be of quick length. Primarily based on the EPA feedback famous above, nevertheless, it has signaled that extraordinarily low values, together with probably these under the detection restrict, could stay within the MCLGs.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Regulation Funding

Following the discharge of the well being advisories, and in an effort to defray related prices, EPA additionally introduced [10] that states may apply for $1 billion in grant funding (the primary of $5 billion) as a part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Regulation to handle PFAS in ingesting water, particularly in small and deprived “frontline” communities. States and territories can apply for these grants till August 15, 2022.

Future Actions to Tackle PFAS

EPA is predicted to take extra actions to handle PFAS within the close to future. As an example, the White Home has just lately acknowledged that “[i]n the coming weeks, EPA will issue a proposed rule to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which will enable EPA to leverage the full range of Superfund authorities, including requiring reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases and to hold polluters accountable by recovering cleanup costs.” [11] We now have previously discussed the huge implications and potential prices of this unprecedented CERCLA regulatory motion, which now have the potential to be additional exacerbated.  Notably, if PFOA and PFOS are listed as hazardous substances underneath CERCLA, EPA’s exceedingly low well being advisories could drive site-specific cleanup requirements for PFOA and PFOS that current challenges with detection strategies and remedy applied sciences. 

We’ll proceed to watch and report on these future PFAS developments. It is going to be vital for affected stakeholders to actively interact with EPA on the adoption of science-based and technically possible ingesting water requirements.


[1] 87 Fed. Reg. 36,848 (June 21, 2022).

[2] The Division of Protection is going through main liabilities at PFAS websites, notably airports which have a historical past of discharging the fire-fighting foam often known as “AFFF” that’s recognized to comprise PFOS and PFOA. See, e.g., Department of Defense PFAS Task Force Progress Report (March 2020). See additionally David Vergun, DOD’s PFAS Public Outreach Focuses on Cleanup Process, PFAS-Free Firefighting Solutions, Officers Say, DOD Information, U.S. Division of Protection (October 21, 2021).

[3] 87 Fed. Reg. at 36,849.

[4] Id.

[5] See EPA Questions and Answers: Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals and PFBS (June 15, 2022).

[6] Id.

[7] 87 Fed. Reg. at 36,849.

[8] Id.

[9] See EPA Questions and Answers: Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals and PFBS (June 15, 2022).

[10] EPA Information Launch, EPA Announces New Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFAS Chemicals, $1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding to Strengthen Health Protections (June 15, 2022).

[11] See White House Fact Sheet: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Combatting PFAS Pollution to Safeguard Clean Drinking Water for All Americans (June 15, 2022).

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