On February 1, 2019, a group of 20 U.S. Senators sent Andrew Wheeler, the Acting EPA Administrator, a letter urging U.S. EPA to set standards for two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) substances. Specifically they are advocating for drinking water standards for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The letter is in response to media reports speculating that EPA will not set standards for these contaminants. Currently, EPA has established only health advisories for these two specific contaminants, which are part of a broader PFAS class. The individual or combined level for these two contaminants is 70 ppt. The letter goes on to say that the advisories are not enforceable and fail to provide states much-needed federal guidance. They reference the current, uncoordinated, “patch work” process where states have been creating their own regulations. Most of the Senators signing the letter are Democrats, although both Republican Senators from West Virginia are also signatories. A copy of the letter sent to EPA can be found HERE.
On January 29, 2019, David Ross, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water is quoted as saying “Despite what is being reported, EPA has not finalized or publicly issued its PFAS management plan, and any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature. The Agency is committed to following the Safe Drinking Water Act process for evaluating new drinking water standards, which is just one of the many components of the draft plan that is currently undergoing interagency review.” EPA hasn’t regulated a new contaminant in drinking water since 1996, which corresponds to the most recent amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act when amendments removed a specific timeline for promulgation of drinking water contaminant regulations.
The regulation of PFAS is not only being influenced by state-driven initiatives, there are also over two dozen groups that have disclosed lobbying Federal officials on this subject in the last quarter of 2018. In contrast, only one company was lobbying in the same period last year. Lobbying efforts span the continuum with organizations as diverse as environmental groups, doctors groups, and cities, as well as large chemical companies such as Exxon Mobil Corporation, Dow Chemical Chemical Company, and Chemours Company. Lobbying efforts are not only restricted to Capitol Hill influencers, they also include efforts to target EPA, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Some believe the actual number of entities lobbying regarding PFAS is actually greater, as some companies characterize there lobbying more generally with terms such as “drinking water” or “chemicals,” which may likely at least partly include PFAS engagement. In general, the companies argue for further study of the effects of the chemicals, while environmental groups want EPA to restrict the use or allowable concentrations of PFAS contaminants found in drinking water. Water utilities whose interests are represented by Associations such as the American Water Works Association have other concerns. Steve Via, Director of Federal Regulations at AWWA, is concerned economic cost analysis of environmental regulations fail to take into account “secondary” costs such as those of disposal for contaminants once they are removed from drinking water supplies.