- The National Groundwater Association (NGWA) and eight other drinking water organizations sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler this week, urging the EPA to expedite regulations of two common per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS).
- The PFAS compounds — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) — are man-made chemicals that seep into drinking water, leading to potential health risks. The EPA announced a proposal in February to regulate the compounds, but NGWA feels the process should be sped up. "There’s really no more need for delay," David Lipson, principal hydrogeologist at HRS Water Consultants and NGWA board member, told Smart Cities Dive.
- The letter listed five requests for EPA to consider amid regulations:
- Better resources to complete Safe Drinking Water Act analyses
- More engagement with health experts to develop a risk assessment of PFAS beyond PFOS and PFOA
- More engagement among stakeholders, including water systems and local governments, in the practical implementation of PFAS mitigation
- Accelerated research to support better decision-making
- Increased use of regulatory tools to gather health risk assessment data and support decision-making
PFOA and PFOS have long been used in making consumer goods such as food packaging or fabrics, which has lead to water contamination amid manufacturing and disposal processes. In 2000, the EPA began to crack down on PFAS contamination, particularly from these two compounds, and recommended in 2016 that combined concentrations of the compounds should not exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
While the recommended limit became a gold standard for many water agencies to follow, it's not formally regulated — leaving some states to develop their own contamination standards. This lack of consistency across PFAS monitoring has stirred some contention among environmental groups and water treatment managers.
In January, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report that found approximately 110 million Americans are exposed to drinking water with "dramatically underestimated" PFOA and PFOS levels. The findings were debated — EWG's 1 ppt standard of contamination "doesn't match what anybody in the industry is using as [a] public health goal," one water manager said — but it raised an important question: How can the water sector better standardize PFAS monitoring? Nearly all responses pointed back to the need for federal regulations.
In its February proposal, the EPA said it was seeking public comment on its decision to regulate PFOA and PFOS, a process Lipson and his peers believe is delaying the actual implementation of a regulatory framework.
"EPA has enough data and facts to regulate and create a maximum contaminate level for PFOA and PFOS," Lipson said.
The agency also said it is seeking comment on potential monitoring and regulatory approaches to other PFAS contaminants. Lipson said PFAS compounds are currently regulated on a chemical-by-chemical basis, a process that can take up to 10 years per compound in some cases.
"That chemical-by-chemical framework really is just not set up to regulate a class of thousands of chemicals," he said.
Any new framework, however, must be based on "sound science," NGWA CEO Terry Morse said in a statement. "The implications of regulating these substances will be far-reaching so it’s crucial they are crafted with input from the scientific community.”
Developing this framework will require collaboration from all stakeholders, including local governments, state agencies and water sector leaders, NGWA said in its letter. And while cities, states and industrial sectors globally face a number of current roadblocks, including the lingering threat of the coronavirus pandemic, Lipson said the EPA can succeed in its objectives.
"EPA and society at large often has to address and manage multiple different risks [that] all could have serious health consequences," Lipson said. "I believe EPA and the associations are doing their best to work on multiple fronts."