Water sector organizations release report on PFAS regulation costs

July 19, 2023
The new report, “Correcting PFAS Myths,” shares reports from prominent water sector organizations about the cost of PFAS treatment for drinking water and wastewater utilities — which may be much higher than EPA estimates.

The Water Coalition Against PFAS, made up of five of the nation’s leading water sector associations, issued a new report that claims the annual cost for PFAS remediation will be considerably higher than Congress and the U.S. EPA anticipate.

The new report, “Correcting PFAS Myths,” includes findings from Coalition members that find annual PFAS clean-up costs could be as much as three times higher than current EPA projections that are being used to inform new regulations.

A recent national survey of public clean water utilities conducted by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) suggests operational costs for individual utilities could increase by more than 60% as a direct result of PFAS wastewater regulations. Total amounts will vary from utility to utility, depending on the specific regulations implemented. However, a new study from Minnesota supports this finding, showing total wastewater costs to remove PFAS to be between $14 and $28 billion over 20 years in that state alone.

NACWA said that wastewater utilities alone in the U.S. will be responsible for tens of billions of dollars in additional costs to address PFAS — all of which, currently, would be passed on to ratepayers.

Separately, according to a report commissioned by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and prepared by Black & Veatch, drinking water utilities will need to invest more than $50 billion to install and operate treatment technology over the next 20 years, in order to comply with new PFAS drinking water standards.

Additional analysis by Hazen & Sawyer estimates that a hazardous substance designation for PFOA and PFOS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) could add another $3.5 billion per year in disposal costs for the water sector, although this does not account for potential CERCLA liability costs that utilities could face.

“The regulations for PFAS being proposed by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act will place unprecedent financial strain on utilities to deal with a chemical that they had no role in producing,” said Jason Dadakis, Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources with the Orange County Water District in California. “Unfortunately, CERCLA can be misused by responsible parties to entangle utilities in unnecessary and costly litigation. It is critical that Congress address this concern by ensuring water sector utilities are not left holding the bag for clean-up costs of chemicals they have no responsibility for making or distributing.”

In addition to water sector PFAS cost projections, “Correcting PFAS Myths”claims that the “polluter pays” principle under CERCLA is fragile, and that EPA’s proposed CERCLA hazardous substance designation of PFOS and PFOA will bring the added cost to water ratepayers.

The report also looks at new technologies being proposed by regulators to reduce PFAS in drinking water and wastewater, including reverse osmosis and ion exchange, revealing high-tech is not the silver bullet that lawmakers would have us believe, and that Congress must hold the real polluters accountable for PFAS clean-up costs in order to have sustainable, affordable, remediation efforts.

The Water Coalition Against PFAS is made up of five of the nation’s leading water sector associations: the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) – and is focused on educating federal policymakers on the impacts of PFAS to the water sector and advocating for valid, science-based PFAS regulations and legislation.

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