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The APTIM Xchange | PFAS Regulatory Updates – What You Need To Know

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a very large family of thousands of chemicals that vary in chemical and physical properties as well as their potential risks to human health and the environment. The persistence and mobility of PFAS along with decades of widespread use of fire-fighting foams, numerous consumer products such as non-stick coatings for pots and pans, food packaging and water proofing agents have resulted in PFAS being present in most environmental media across our planet. This article focuses on the recent regulatory actions taken by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and various state agencies to address PFAS present in soil, groundwater and municipal and industrial waste streams.

PFAS Federal Regulatory History. PFAS became an emerging contaminant of concern in the early 2000’s after studies by industrial manufacturing companies such as 3M sent USEPA rat studies and toxicity studies showing adverse health effects from PFAS exposure. In 2009, USEPA published a provisional health advisory for two PFAS compounds Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS). However, no standards were set until 2016 when EPA set non-enforceable health advisory standards of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. To date, there is no EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL’s) promulgated by USEPA for PFAS including PFOA and PFOS. In 2019, USEPA issued a PFAS Action Plan that indicated that it would take steps to evaluate the need for MCL’s for PFOA and PFOS. In February 2020, the agency proposed a Regulatory Determination to develop drinking water standards (MCLs) for PFOA and PFOS. As of the date of this newsletter, no Federal MCL’s have been established for any PFAS compounds but they are anticipated to be promulgated in the near future.

State PFAS Regulatory Standards. Several states have been actively involved with addressing PFAS contamination in drinking water, groundwater, surface water and wastewater. According to the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC), as of March 31, 2020, PFAS drinking water, groundwater, surface water and wastewater effluent standards and/or guidance have been established in 25 states including the states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin. Several other states have pending legislation regarding PFAS drinking water, groundwater, wastewater and surface water regulatory standards. Soil screening guidance and/or regulatory standards have also been established in many states. The concentrations for these regulatory standards vary considerably state to state and the values change rapidly as more scientific and toxicology studies are made available. See ITRC website for tables of PFAS water and soil values.

Other State and Federal Regulatory Programs. On November 30, 2020 USEPA issued a news release to announce the following two steps:

  1. Interim Strategy for PFAS in Federally Issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits (EPA Memorandum Issued 11/22/20).
  2. Developing new analytical methods to test for PFAS compounds in wastewater and other environmental media.

The interim strategy recommends that permit writers consider including PFAS monitoring at facilities where PFAS is expected to be present in the waste stream. USEPA is developing analytical methods in collaboration with the US Department of Defense to test for PFAS in wastewater and other media such as soil. EPA anticipates that the validation testing for the analytical methods will be finalized sometime in 2021.

Another issue regarding PFAS is in the application of biosolids from municipal wastewater treatment plant to land for disposal or reuse. The states of Alaska, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin are in the process of developing such regulations.

Some states have also issued regulations or programs regarding Aqueous Fire Fighting Foams (AFFF). The states of New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have established AFFF take-back programs to reduce the potential discharge of PFAS into the environment during firefighting activities. Also, the state of Washington has prohibited the use of AFFF containing PFAS during fire training activities. After July of 2020, AFFF containing PFAS was not allowed for sale of distribution in the state of Washington. The AFFF restrictions do not apply to use by the US Department of Defense, oil and gas terminals or chemical plants in response to fire emergencies.

Finally, several states have also established product labeling requirements for PFAS in consumer products. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned some PFAS compounds from use in food packaging. All of these regulatory programs will help to restrict and limit PFAS impacts to our environment.

How can APTIM Assist our Clients? Because of the complex nature of PFAS compounds, APTIM established an in-house focus group (PFAS Technical Focus Group) with subject-matter experts from various disciplines to track and disseminate updates on regulatory changes, risk assessment, sampling procedures, analytical methods, and treatment technologies. The PFAS focus group maintains a repository of information and has access to innovative assessment techniques and remediation technology through our remediation technology laboratories in Lawrenceville, NJ and Cincinnati, OH. Our remedial technology laboratories develop and test new PFAS and other emerging contaminant treatment methods, and our research and development (R&D) work is funded through Federal grants from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. Our project personnel and our clients have access to all the documents in our PFAS repository and our subject matter experts for PFAS assessment, regulatory compliance and innovative remedial technologies for PFAS mitigation and water treatment programs. Another article on the research and development of PFAS water treatment technologies will be included in the March Edition of The APTIM Xchange.

Brian Cote, Senior Program Manager

APTIM. Expect the Extraordinary.