On June 15, 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) released four drinking water health advisories for a class of compounds known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These health advisories are drastically stricter than previous iterations issued in 2016. The EPA also announced it would make available $1 billion in grant funding as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities reduce PFAS exposures. This will be the first installment of a $5 billion fund that can be used to reduce PFAS contamination in drinking water for communities facing disproportionate impacts, such as those living near military installations.
WHAT IS A HEALTH ADVISORY?
EPA’s lifetime health advisories “identify levels to protect all people, including sensitive populations and life stages, from adverse health effects resulting from a lifetime of exposure to these PFAS in drinking water.” Additionally, EPA’s lifetime health advisories consider other potential sources of exposure to PFAS outside of drinking water (e.g., food, air, consumer products, etc.). Accounting for the cumulative effect of PFAS exposure provides an additional layer of protection.
EPA SOUNDS THE ALARM BELLS
EPA’s updated health advisories are based on new science that suggests negative health effects can occur from PFAS exposure at limits lower than EPA’s ability to detect based on current testing protocols. The EPA and its experts determined that the lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health. Due to the dangers of PFAS in drinking water even at very low levels, EPA set the new health advisories near zero.
The former health advisory for PFOA issued in 2016 was 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This means that in 2016, the EPA believed that if the concentration of PFOA in drinking water was at or below 70 ppt adverse health effects were not anticipated to occur. Based on what we now know, the EPA’s updated health advisory for PFOA is 0.004 ppt. The 2016 health advisory is 17,500 times greater than the current one. For PFOS, the health advisory limit dropped from 70 ppt to 0.02 ppt. Additionally newer PFAS chemicals GenX chemicals are 10ppt and 2000ppt for PFBS.
Essentially the EPA has found that any detectable level of PFAS in drinking water is too much. However, health advisories are non-regulatory, meaning there is no penalty to municipalities or water providers if the limits are exceeded. That will soon change.
MANDATORY STANDARDS COMING SOON
EPA intends to propose the first PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation in fall of 2022. As EPA goes through the science and process of developing a maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for PFAS, the interim health advisories will provide guidance to states, Tribes, and water systems for the time before the regulation takes effect.
EFFECT ON MUNICIPAILITIES
The EPA has officially sounded the alarm bells on the widespread PFAS contamination problem we face in this country. Countless municipalities and water systems have some detectable level of PFAS in their drinking water due to decades of commercial PFAS use. IT has been reported that 1 in 3 Pennsylvania drinking water systems exceed the EPA’s updated health advisory limits. It was also reported that the new limits will add considerably to remediations. Municipalities should consider in investing in updating their water treatment technologies to remove as much PFAS as possible. Funding for updating water treatment systems may be available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Municipalities that do not address the PFAS issue now will be behind the ball when the EPA issues the anticipated PFAS regulations in the fall. Getting ahead of the issue will protect the citizenry and help avoid potentially costly fines by the EPA in the future.
The EPA’s new health advisories provide technical information for federal, state, and local agencies to use to inform actions to address PFAS in drinking water, including water quality monitoring, optimization of existing technologies that reduce PFAS, and strategies to reduce exposure to these substances.
If any municipalities, townships, counties, or parishes need assistance navigating PFAS issues, please reach out to Stag Liuzza, LLC at 504.593.9600.
The EPA announcement can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos