PFAS: Despite a Flurry of Federal Activity, We’re Still Waiting on Limits

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PFAS: Despite a Flurry of Federal Activity, We're Still Waiting on Limits

February 28, 2024 | all blog |

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have emerged as a significant topic of concern in recent years, drawing attention due to their widespread use, persistence in the environment, and potential health risks. Representing a class of thousands of compounds that break down slowly over time, PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and globe. They are so widespread, in fact, that it is estimated that many PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” are found in the blood of people and animals worldwide and present at low levels in our food products.

Found in many consumer, commercial, and industrial products, PFAS are a hot discussion point at the federal and state levels and a mainstay in modern media. In January 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a slew of PFAS-related alerts, including three models to better measure PFAS in the environment, the addition of seven PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and a new rule preventing companies from starting or resuming the manufacture or processing of 329 PFAS that have not been made or used in years without review and risk determination. In February 2024, the EPA additionally released two proposed regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) intended to protect communities from PFAS. However, to date, PFAS limits range at both the federal and state level, and none are enforceable. 

Public health, particularly surrounding drinking water, has prompted action. EPA has issued a health advisory for two types of PFAS compounds: 70 ppt for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate or Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid (PFOS), but has not specified enforceable limits. In March 2023, the EPA announced National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX Chemicals), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS). In 2022, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $40 million ruling against DuPont, claiming PFOA in drinking water led to the plaintiff’s testicular cancer.

The presence of PFAS in drinking water led the U.S. Geological Survey to launch its “PFAS in U.S. Tapwater Interactive Dashboard” last month. This online tool will help users identify the likelihood of PFAS in local tap water. EPA has additionally made billions of grant dollars available to help communities on the frontlines of PFAS contamination to reduce their presence in drinking water.

Despite this year’s activity from the EPA and others, the Planned Maximum Contaminant Level (MCLs) intended for release in January 2024 are still pending. Waterborne will keep a watchful eye on both federal and state agencies as they work to track and mitigate their risk.