Guide to the Recent EPA Actions on PFAS 

pfas

In April 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced a new regulation to limit the amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Following this, the EPA also finalized a rule that designates two PFAS as hazardous substances and updated its guidance on the destruction and disposal of materials containing PFAS.  These new actions are part of the EPA’s larger commitment to address and mitigate the use of PFAS. 

PFAS are synthetic chemicals that have been used in a variety of industry and consumer products since the 1950s, in everything from clothing to nonstick cookware. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because many do not break down and will remain in the environment for an indeterminate amount of time.  Because of their ubiquity in soil, water, and air, PFAS pose a concern to both the health of humans and ecosystems.  

The EPA has thus created an action plan to protect communities from these chemicals, which includes the most recent developments in regulations and guidelines that were released. Here, we break down these new regulations and offer insight into how Capaccio can help your business take proactive action to comply with new and future PFAS requirements.  

PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation 

On April 10, 2024, the EPA finalized the first-ever national regulation to reduce PFAS in drinking water.  The regulation targets six PFAS in particular: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA, and PFBS.  For PFOA and PFOS, the EPA set the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) at 4 parts per trillion (ppt), with the goal to eventually reduce the MCL down to zero. These new limits reflect the EPA’s growing understanding of the dangers associated with PFAS, as just less than a decade ago, the EPA advised that levels of PFOA and PFOS should not exceed 70 ppt. For PFHxS, PFNA, and HFPO-DA, the newly established MCL is slightly higher at 10 ppt.  

Water providers will have three years (until 2027) to complete PFAS testing and release their findings to the public. If their findings reveal that the water systems exceed the set MCLs for these six PFAS, water providers will have until 2029 to implement mitigation measures and notify the public of the violation.  The EPA estimates that testing and solutions will cost $1.5 billion (about $5 per person in the US) annually.  While water providers expressed concern over the predicted costs, the EPA has taken steps to alleviate some of the financial burden by allocating $1 billion through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help states, territories, and private well owners conduct testing and treatment on their water supplies.  

The EPA argues that the benefits of this new regulation outweigh the costs because of the severe health effects that are caused by PFAS, including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and low birth weights.  The new regulation is predicted to help reduce exposure to PFAS for up to 100 million people and prevent thousands of PFAS-related deaths in the coming decades.  

PFOA and PFOS: Hazardous Substances 

In addition to setting the most stringent limits on PFOA and PFOS, the EPA designated these two pervasive PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also referred to as Superfund.  PFOA is a byproduct of manufacturing fluoropolymers, which are heat, oil, grease, or water-resistant materials and found in products such as pipe linings.  PFOS is found in items including non-stick and stain-resistant consumer products.  

The new CERCLA designation means that any leaks or releases of PFOA and PFOS must be reported immediately to the National Response Center, local and state emergency responders.  In addition, federal entities must report the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA and PFOS when selling or transferring ownership of their properties.  

CERCLA facilitates action plans and improves transparency to protect public health.  The new hazardous substance designations, in combination with the drinking water regulation, reveal that the EPA is making a concerted effort to minimize the prevalence of PFAS.  

Updated Guidance on PFAS Disposal 

Building off the previous 2020 guidelines, the EPA also updated its guidance on managing destruction and disposal (D&D) efforts of materials containing PFAS.  The guidelines focus on three D&D technologies: underground injection, landfills, and thermal treatment, all of which are useful in certain situations to minimize the release of PFAS into the environment. 

Under the new guidance, the EPA cites underground injection into Class I wells as a potential management option for PFAS, as this technology would store liquid waste underground and protect drinking water sources from contamination; however, this technology is not readily available everywhere.  

In a departure from the 2020 guidance, the EPA updated its attitude toward using landfills as a disposal site because new research suggests that landfills may be releasing more PFAS into the environment than previously thought.  As an alternative, the EPA now recommends disposing of PFAS-containing materials in hazardous waste landfills, which have controls in place to limit release and exposure.  

The update also includes new research that suggests thermal treatment in hazardous waste combustors is highly effective at PFAS destruction and disposal.  However, there are still uncertainties around this technology, such as cases of incomplete combustion and generation of emissions.  Finally, while not a D&D technology, the EPA also included interim storage as a potential option, specifically for materials with a high PFAS content.  

Moving Forward  

Capaccio is committed to keeping our clients informed about new developments in EHS regulations and helping in building compliance readiness.  The EPA’s recent actions geared toward mitigating the presence of PFAS underscore the importance of proper water/wastewater treatment procedures.  Capaccio’s team of engineers has expertise in all aspects of wastewater management, from design and construction to data management and reporting.  In addition, PFAS are also found in air emissions, and our team of air quality compliance experts can help your company navigate the nuances of air permitting to ensure your facilities comply with all requirements.  

Capaccio can help your company stay on top of regulatory requirements with the EHS-Dashboard™ , a one-stop comprehensive solution for data management and analysis.  The EHS-Dashboard™  is flexible software that can be tailored for applicable requirements and company-specific goals to ensure that your company is always compliance ready.  To learn more about how the EHS-Dashboard™  can help your company take proactive steps to adhere to the EPA’s new regulations and updated guidance on PFAS, schedule a demo.  Capaccio can assist your company in navigating the regulatory landscape, while simultaneously mapping out next steps that align with your company’s specific target and goals to improve overall business operations and performance.  

 

 

Neslund, Scientific Officer and PFAS Practice Leader, Eurofins Laboratory. 2 May 2023.