National Drinking Water and Groundwater Groups Nudge EPA to Take Expeditious Action on PFAS Standards

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National Drinking Water and Groundwater Groups Nudge EPA to Take Expeditious Action on PFAS Standards

By: Doug Hunter

Published in the June 2020 Focus on the Environment Newsletter

With the federal government lagging-behind in the establishment of regulated standards for PFAS compounds, states are left to develop their own policies and standards, a process which has created something of a wild west atmosphere for those at the front lines of the issue.  With EPA finally embarking down the long and uncertain road to regulate perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA), some are just happy to be seeing the tunnel entrance, if not necessarily the light at the end of it. 

Other than perhaps the United States Department of Defense (which currently has the largest number of PFAS contaminated sites in the US), arguably no one has more skin in the PFAS game than privately owned and public sector water utilities.  In this wild west atmosphere, they are the ones that at the end of the day are responsible for ensuring a safe and reliable source of drinking water for their customers.  As a result, they often bear the brunt of the burdens (i.e. costs) of testing and treatment.  Burdens which we will all share eventually as these additional costs inevitably get passed along in our water bill.  To get some idea what those costs might be, recent projections estimate that PFAS management will drive annual water utility spending into the billions of dollars.

In a June 3 letter addressed to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, nine leading water organizations implored the EPA to move expeditiously in their evaluation of drinking water standards for two per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS).  Emphasizing that the implications of regulating these substances will be “far-reaching” and thus an expeditious decision “based on sound science and robust analyses, is necessary to ensure effective protection of human health.” In addition to regulation under the SWDA, the group lobbies EPA to proactively utilize other existing authorities (such as TSCA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) to protect drinking water supplies. The groups that directed the letter are the American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Rural Water Association (NRWA), National Ground Water Association (NGWA), Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), Irrigation Association, National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and National Water Resources Association (NWRA).

Based on their “collective concern and interest in timely regulatory decisions regarding PFAS by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and other statutes,” the group urged the Agency to do the following:

1. Provide the resources required to complete the technical and economic analyses necessary to support a proposed SDWA action for PFOA and PFOS.

2. Begin engagement with outside experts to develop and review a public health risk assessment for PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS to guide determining which PFAS or groups of PFAS should be targeted for data collection and risk management measures.

3. Actively engage water systems, local government, state agencies, and other key stakeholders in the practical implementation of PFAS risk management including establishing the adequacy of analytical methods and capacity, effective risk communication, and sustainable treatment options, among other important factors.

4. Accelerate research on water treatment, occurrence, and health effects to support future decision making and contaminant prioritization.

5. Leverage available regulatory tools in other statutes to gather occurrence and health risk assessment data and organize them to support research and decision making, using regulatory tools that include the Toxics Release Inventory, Sections 4 and 8 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.

Will the letter push EPA to expedite the MCL development process for PFOA and PFOS?  Probably not, however, the group sends a strong, unified message “America’s water supply should not be the primary line of defense against pollutants that pose a serious public health risk.”  Simply stated, MCLs should serve as the last line of defense when other regulatory barriers have failed, not as the first line of defense to identify if a problem exists. 

Doug is a licensed professional geologist in Indiana and North Carolina. As a consulting hydrogeologist, Doug specializes in aquifer characterization and yield determinations, well and wellfield performance evaluations, and the design and testing of both vertical well and horizontal collector well systems. Additional areas of expertise include environmental assessment and remedial system evaluation and design. He has worked throughout the United States on a wide variety of groundwater supply and environmental contamination related projects. Doug’s wide-ranging expertise and extensive experience in the groundwater supply industry add another dimension to Cox-Colvin’s technical staff and provide additional opportunity to support our clients in meeting their needs and reaching their business goals.