Regulatory Update: Prioritizing PFAS

Aug. 13, 2021

Federal & state legislators prioritize addressing emerging contaminants

About the author:

Kathleen Fultz is global regulatory and government affairs manager for the Water Quality Assn. Fultz can be reached at [email protected].

In 2019, the U.S. EPA released its National PFAS (per- and polyfluoralkyl substances) Action Plan, detailing steps to gather information and determine how to regulate PFAS in drinking water. The plan stops short of calling for an enforceable maximum contaminant level (MCL), but leaves the door open. In the U.S. House of Representatives (House), there is bipartisan support to address PFAS contamination. More than 30 representatives have joined the House PFAS Taskforce, co-chaired by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). This spring, Kildee, chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus, testified before the House Committee on Appropriations to ask for funding in Fiscal Year 2020 to clean up PFAS chemicals at former military bases. 

In addition, multiple pieces of legislation have been proposed on PFAS in both the House and U.S. Senate, with additional bills being drafted. House Bill 535 and its Senate companion bill, 638, would require EPA to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. This would allow access to the EPA Superfund to respond to releases of PFAS in the environment. House Bill 1567 and its Senate companion bill, 675, addresses damages due to PFAS. Along with other provisions, it authorizes the U.S. Department of Defense to temporarily provide water for agricultural purposes to areas affected by PFAS contamination from military installations.

Kildee and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have been honored with the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) Champion award for their support on water-related legislation, specifically their efforts to address PFAS in drinking water and recognize remediation solutions. Fitzpatrick was named a WQA Champion in 2018, as was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

State Actions 

Multiple states are not waiting for the EPA to set MCLs for PFAS compounds. Instead, they are working on setting state-level MCLs. The bills discussed below have been proposed in the first quarter of 2019 and are awaiting approval. 

California Assembly bills 756 and 841 strive to establish public water system monitoring for PFAS and require the State Water Resources Control Board to assess which PFAS substances are candidates for notification levels. In New York, Senate Bill 773, would direct the New York Department of Health to conduct a health review of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and establish MCLs for their presence in public water supplies. Further along, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont are calling out specific MCL limits to be enforced at the state level.

It is important to note that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has established a criterion for combined PFOA and PFOS at 70 ppt. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection adopted the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute’s recommended MCL for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) at 13 ppt in September 2018. 

Adding to published studies, state and federal legislators are continuing to request research on PFAS, looking at the extent of occurrence, effects on human health and the environment, and remediation options. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requires the U.S. Department of Defense to carry out a nationwide study of human health impacts of PFAS chemicals in the environment, including in drinking water. To complete this task, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry are preparing an assessment of human exposure to PFAS at communities near current or former military installations. This is anticipated to begin in 2019 and become the groundwork for a future multi-site health study looking at the relationship between PFAS exposure and health outcomes.

Seeking Solutions

Nearly 40 WQA members and staff took part in this year’s DC Fly-In, which included the Water Resources Congressional Summit and small group congressional visits. Participants emphasized WQA’s support of legislation and funding to fight PFAS contamination, and the effectiveness of in-home filtration systems or devices during emergencies or long-term contamination issues. The delegation also offered legislators and agency representatives WQA’s expertise and help to deal with contamination issues or water-related legislation.

About the Author

Kathleen Fultz

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