On February 14, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 64-page plan for managing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The PFAS Action Plan is detailed and multifaceted, but at a high level includes the following key EPA actions to address the challenges these substances present.
· Expand toxicity information for PFAS
· Develop new tools to characterize PFAS in the environment
· Evaluate cleanup approaches
· Develop guidance to facilitate cleanup of contaminated groundwater
· Use enforcement tools to address PFAS exposure in the environment and assist states in enforcement activities
· Use legal tools such as those in TSCA to prevent future PFAS contamination
· Address PFAS in drinking water using regulatory and other tools
· Develop new tools and materials to communicate about PFAS
Among the specific short-term actions included in the plan are the establishment of a clearinghouse for PFAS chemical information, development of new analytical testing methods for additional PFAS in drinking water, and promulgation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) that require EPA be given notice before these chemicals are used in new ways that could affect exposure and associated risk. EPA anticipates these short-term actions will be completed within approximately two years. Lastly, the Agency indicated its short-term approach will use targeted enforcement actions to manage PFAS risk. In addition, the Agency will be developing a coordinated Risk Communication message and material to be used across Federal agencies to inform the public about risks. Longer-term actions include meeting broader goals that may include interim steps. Among the goals are: reducing PFAS releases into ambient water and drinking water sources, generating more PFAS toxicology data to better characterize potential health impacts, holding parties responsible for PFAS environmental releases, and developing more drinking water occurrence data for a broad group of PFAS contaminants. A copy of the PFAS Action Plan can be found HERE.
In a February 14, 2019 statement, Acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler when speaking about the PFAS Action Plan said, “By the end of the year, EPA will propose maximum contaminant level (MCL) regulations for two types of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS. The plan does not necessarily mean EPA will set a maximum contaminant level for the chemicals. Wheeler did not say how long the regulatory process could be, but he indicated the Agency has “every intention of setting” an MCL.
Critics of the Plan, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) believe that the steps in the plan don’t go far enough to protect public health. They point to the fact the plan only starts the process of designating an enforceable drinking water standard for these substances. As such, this could mean it might be years before (and whether) EPA sets maximum contaminant levels for these substances or designates these substances as hazardous, leaving the public vulnerable in the interim.