Next week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will take the next step in one of its 2018 priority items: mitigating contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The EPA will convene a community engagement event as part of its larger effort to consider designating PFAS as hazardous substances. The Horsham, Pennsylvania event will be the second of four sessions on the topic; future events have been planned for Colorado and North Carolina, with additional venues possible.
In May 2018, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would be undertaking a multi-year review of PFAS, focusing on their long-term health impacts, maximum contaminant levels and steps to remediate their existence in the environment at contaminated sites. States and local water agencies are particularly interested in the EPA’s actions and are looking to the agency for guidance on how to clean up these sites.
Many manufacturers have already begun to move away from these chemicals — which are valued for their resistance to fire, water and staining. They have commonly been used in manufacturing items such as firefighting foam, cookware, cleaning products, textiles, furniture, carpets and food packaging. Due to their historical prominence, several locations around the country register high levels of contamination in soil and water, drawing recently intensified scrutiny from regulators. The EPA has signaled that it will consider lowering its maximum contaminant levels (MCL) — it has a current MCL of 70 parts per trillion — that will be critical to EPA’s remediation guidance. Several localities have already adopted more stringent standards. At least 20 states have set standards for PFAS in soil, groundwater or drinking water, according to recent data compiled by the Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council.
How the EPA tackles this issue will be worth watching, given the high-profile nature of drinking water contamination and the legacy issues that were raised through the experiences of Flint, Michigan. The EPA is actively seeking participation from industry and others. Interested stakeholders and parties should continue to monitor these activities as action is expected this year and beyond.