PFAS Madness

May 16, 2024
Recent rulings on PFAS has sent ripples through the water industry, from utilities and their customers to providers and communities.

Sitting in my university orientation for the history department 18 years ago, enthusiastically listening to the outgoing chair, I noticed the newly appointed chair sat looking dejected in the corner. I wondered why, upon achieving this most august position, he could appear this way. His elbow was in his lap; his face rested in his hand. After the gospel speech by the former chair: “a history degree doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it prepares you to do anything,” the new chair finally piped up woefully. He said, “the only thing you need to know is that history is a messy place.” Now, trying to work as a journalist, I think the past is messy because the present is.

On April 10, 2024, the U.S. EPA announced its first maximum contaminate levels regulation since the Arsenic MCL was updated in 2001. In the article on entitled “Water industry responds to EPA's PFAS MCL ruling,” industry associations and companies provide comments about the new rules.

To be fair, the U.S. EPA has been working on researching, discovering and attempting to discern what is in the best interest of the public health. PFAS contamination in the water supply does fall within the EPA’s purview. Also, in the first quarter of 2024, the EPA finalized a rule that prevents companies from starting or resuming the manufacturing or processing of various PFAS that have not been used for many years without first submitting to a complete EPA workup, making it appear as though the EPA is trying to stitch the problem in at the middle.

Further, manufacturers that build, engineer and sell equipment necessary to treat PFAS in the water industry say they are ready to support water providers with proven methods.

Associations representing water providers are in opposition to portions of the rule citing flawed scientific research, causing the MCLs to be “overly conservative,” and a lack of financial resources, noting that the EPA’s cost estimations are inaccurate, which will directly result in increases for rate payers (or “communities”) instead of polluters paying for PFAS remediation.

Given the water industry does not and has never manufactured or used PFAS, there is frustration. The polluters have been held liable, but only through legal recourse taken by water providers who can name and prove who their polluters were. In addition, there are generally known polluters who are not being held accountable at a federal level for the damage that has already been done.

Whether or not water providers want to do their jobs, from this place in between regulations and rate payers is not at issue. They are drinking the same water everyone else is. It seems everyone agrees that something needs to be done.

Are providers and the communities they serve being held hostage by rules that are setting them up to fail? Is the industry prepared? Is the EPA simply doing their job with the best information they have to work with? Is it both? Is it all?

Listen to interviews from four industry professionals on the latest episode of Talking Under Water along with commentary from myself, the editor in chief of Stormwater Solutions, Katie Johns, and Endeavor Business Media’s water group Editorial Director Bob Crossen to learn more about the temperature of the environment post regulation, and make up your own mind. [LINK]

About the Author

Mandy Crispin

Mandy Crispin is the editor-in-chief of WaterWorld magazine and co-host of water industry podcast Talking Under Water. She can be reached at [email protected].  

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