EPA Releases First-of-its-Kind Nationwide PFAS Action Plan

Earlier today, the EPA’s Acting Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, announced a nationwide PFAS Action Plan. An EPA official described the plan as the “most comprehensive action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the agency.” The plan describes actions that are under way and slated for future action. In particular, the plan discusses:

  • moving forward with evaluating the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS;
  • beginning the steps to designate the chemicals as “hazardous substances”  through an available federal statutory mechanism (CERCLA, RCRA, TSCA, CWA);
  • developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites;
  • developing toxicity values for GenX chemicals;
  • developing new analytical methods and tools for understanding and managing PFAS risk;
  • promulgating Significant New Use Rules that require EPA notification before chemicals are used in new ways that may create human health and ecological concerns; and
  • using enforcement actions to help manage PFAS risk.

The Action Plan also discusses the need to identify new and additional treatment and remediation options that can be used to address PFAS contamination, and expanding and developing knowledge about new PFAS chemicals. Further, the EPA intends to propose nationwide drinking water monitoring for PFAS under the next UCMR monitoring cycle utilizing newer methods available to detect different PFAS and at lower minimum reporting levels (MRLs) than previously possible in earlier monitoring. EPA announced that it will plan to issue a proposed drinking water monitoring rule (UCMR5) next year.

During the question and answer segment of the press conference, Mr. Wheeler said he could not give a definite answer on how long the regulatory process will take to develop MCLs, but that the EPA “has every intention of setting an MCL.” The EPA has used and will continue to use its 70ppt health advisory in direct enforcement actions across the country and will continue to assist states with enforcement actions. Mr. Wheeler clarified a common inquiry, stating that an MCL is not required to force a cleanup, and that the EPA can use a health advisory to enforce action against water utilities, among others. The apparent distinction made between a health advisory and an MCL is that the latter would require regular monitoring by drinking water systems. Mr. Wheeler also confirmed that despite multiple states having significantly tougher standards, he is confident that the EPA’s current health advisory level of 70 ppt is a safe level for drinking water.

In sum, the Action Plan “describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, approaches to addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS.” We will monitor closely the implementation of this significant plan.

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