PFAS to be Classified as Hazardous Substances Under New Bipartisan Senate Bill

PFAS to be Classified as Hazardous Substances Under New Bipartisan Senate Bill

The PFAS Action Act

A bipartisan senate bill was introduced on March 1 to mandate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classify Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup under the Superfund toxics law, a massive step in efforts to eliminate widespread contamination by these compounds across the country. Under the PFAS Action Act of 2019, legislation would require responsible parties to report the excess release of PFAS into the environment and allow the government to sue polluters to recover the costs of cleanup.

Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said that “this proposal could assist potentially hundreds of communities throughout the country struggling with PFAS contamination by securing the resources required to begin the cleanup process and holding polluters accountable.”

What are PFAS?

PFAS are manmade chemicals that have been used in both industry and consumer products since the 1950s.  The most common products that PFAS are used in include:

  • Non-stick cookware
  • Products that resist grease, water and oil
  • Water-repellant clothing
  • Stain resistant fabrics
  • Firefighting foams
  • Some cosmetics


Exposure to PFAS can happen through a variety of ways including:

  • Drinking contaminated municipal water or private well water
  • Eating fish caught from a source that was contaminated with PFAS
  • Swallowing contaminated soil or dust
  • Eating food that was packaged in material containing PFAS
  • Using consumer products including the ones listed above

As PFAS are produced and used, they can migrate into soil and water inducing hugely detrimental effects on the environment, people, and animals. While scientists are still learning about the health effects to exposure of PFAS, some studies show that PFAS exposure may affect:

  • Growth
  • Learning
  • Behavior of infants and children
  • The ability to get pregnant
  • Natural hormones in the body
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Immune system
  • Risk of cancer

 

Why is the PFAS Action Act of 2019 Necessary?

Tests performed by the EPA have detected PFAS pollution of public water supplies for 16 million Americans in 33 states, a statistic that is considered a severe underestimate of the scope of the problem. EWG and researchers at Boston’s Northeastern University have tracked 172 PFAS contamination sites in 40 states – a number that does not include public water systems with PFAS contamination. In May 2018, EWG released a data analysis that estimated more than 1,500 drinking water systems, serving up to 110 million Americans, may be contaminated with similar fluorinated chemicals.

The map below from EWG and SSEHRI at Northeastern University shows contamination sites and EPA tap water detections. Click here to view an interactive version of this map. The blue circles show where PFAS chemicals were detected between 2013 and 2016 in public drinking water systems, and the red circles show sites in Northeastern’s PFAS Contamination Site Tracker.

Should this bill be enacted into law, these 1,500 contaminated drinking water systems across the country would soon be cleaned up as part both short-term and long-term actions included in the Action Plan, potentially resulting in clean water supplies and safe drinking water.

PFAS Action Act – Action Items

The EPA is leading the national effort to understand PFAS and reduce risks to the public through implementation of this Action Plan and through active engagement and partnership with other federal agencies, states, tribes, industry groups, associations, local communities, and the public.

Key actions to PFAS related challenges include:

  • Expanding toxicity information for PFAS
  • Developing new tools to characterize PFAS in the environment
  • Evaluating cleanup approaches
  • Developing guidance to facilitate the cleanup of contaminated groundwater
  • Using enforcement tools to address PFAS exposure in the environment
  • Using legal tools such as those in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to prevent future PFAS contamination
  • Addressing PFAS in drinking water using regulatory and other tools
  • Developing new tools and materials to communicate about PFAS

(See all priority actions, short-term actions, and long-term actions here.)

1ewg.org
2shaheen.senate.gov
3epa.org
4atsdr.cdc.gov
5michigan.gov

 

PFAS – Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

PFAS – Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

Health Advisory Guidelines for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances Detected in Public Water Systems

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced in early June, and through the Office of Research and Standards (ORS), its recommendations on the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 (UCMR 3) for emerging contaminants-specifically Perflourinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS).

PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made compounds that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perffluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perflouroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS).

US map of PFASAccording the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all these UCMR 3 PFAS compounds have been detected in public water supplies across the US. Since PFAS are considered emerging contaminants, there are currently no established regulatory limits for levels in drinking water. However, in 2016, the EPA set Health Advisory levels (HA) of 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the combined concentrations of two PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA.

MassDEP’s ORS established drinking water guidelines that follows the EPA’s recommendations for health advisory levels at 70 ppt, which applies to the sum total of five PFAS chemicals – PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHXS, and PFHpA.  And, if the level of contamination poses unacceptable health risks to its customers, Public Water Systems (PWS) must take action to achieve safe levels. They also must provide public notice.

The EPA and MassDEP’s recommended guidelines for PFAS include:

  • Public Water Suppliers take immediate action to reduce levels of the five PFAS to be below 70 ppt for all consumers.
  • Susceptible health-risk groups (pregnant women, infants, and nursing mothers) should stop consuming water when the level is above 70 ppt.
  • Public Water Systems must provide a public Health Advisory notice.

Water testingThe EPA also recommends that treatment be implemented for all five PFAS when one or more of these compounds are present.

Although, PFAS are no longer manufactured in the United States, PFAS are still produced internationally and can be imported in to the country1.  PFAS have been in use since the 1940’s and are persistent chemicals that don’t breakdown, accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body.  Evidence shows that prolonged exposure PFAS can have adverse effects on human health and the ecology.

PFAS can be found in:

  • Agricultural products grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water, and/or handled with PFAS-containing equipment and materials.
  • Drinking water contaminated from chemical groundwater pollution from stormwater runoff near landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and firefighter training facilities2.
  • Household products, including nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and stain and water-repellent fabrics.
  • Firefighting foams2, which is a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs.
  • Industrial facilities that manufactured chrome plating, electronics, and oil recovery that use PFAS.
  • Environmental contamination where PFAS have built-up and persisted over time – including in fish, animals and humans.

While most states are relying on the EPA’s Health Advisory levels (including Massachusetts), some, such as Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona, and Colorado have addressed other UCMR 3 PFAS pollutants as well.

Boy drinking waterMost research on the effects of PFAS on human health is based on animal studies. And, although there is no conclusive evidence that PFAS cause cancer, animal studies have shown there are possible links. However, PFAS ill-health effects are associated with changes in thyroid, kidney and liver function, as well as affects to the immune system.  These chemicals have also caused fetal development effects during pregnancy and low birth weights.

PFAS are found at low levels throughout our environment—in foods we consume and in household products we use daily. PFAS in drinking water at levels higher than the EPA’s recommendations does not necessarily mean health risks are likely. Routine showering and bathing are not considered significant sources of exposure. And, while it is nearly impossible to eliminate all exposure to these chemicals, the risk for adverse health effects would likely be of concern if an individual continuously consumed higher levels of PFAS than the guidelines established by the EPA’s Health Advisory.

MassDEP is continuing its research and testing for PFAS in Public Water Systems.  Large Public Drinking Water Systems have already been tested and sampling indicated that approximately 3% had levels of PFAS detected. MassDEP is currently working with smaller Public Water Systems to identify areas where PFAS may have been used or discharged to the environment.

As more information and regulations develop on this emerging contaminant, MassDEP will continue to communicate their findings. Tata & Howard is also available for any questions that may arise, as well as, assist with testing and recommend treatment options for our clients.

 

1 In 2006, the EPA and the PFA industry formed the PFOA Stewardship program to end the production of PFAs.

2 MassDEP in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (MassDFS), announced in May a take-back program to remove hazardous pre-2003 firefighting foam stockpiles and be neutralized. Manufacturers stopped making PFAS foam in 2002 and have since developed fluorine-free and more fluorine stable foams that are safer to the environment.