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Keeping Up With PFAS Regulatory Updates

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances — also called PFAS or “forever chemicals” — are manufactured chemicals used to make products like nonstick cookware, firefighting foams and textiles. PFAS can enter the environment through production or waste streams.

Evidence suggests that PFAS can have adverse developmental, reproductive and immunological effects in humans and animals. Since the early 2000s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented regulations to reduce PFAS exposure and protect public health.

So, what is the EPA doing about PFAS? Continue reading to learn about the agency’s various efforts to reduce forever chemicals in the environment and consumer products alike.

What Are the Latest PFAS Regulations?

Below are some of the most recent updates to the EPA’s PFAS regulations. Check out the full list of changes in 2022 and 2023 on the EPA’s website.

1. National Drinking Water Standard

In an effort to protect public health, the EPA proposed the first-ever national standard to limit six PFAS in drinking water in March 2023. The six PFAS are:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
  • Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
  • Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).
  • Herfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS).
  • Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA).

This standard fulfilled a fundamental commitment in the organization’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. Leveraging the most recent science, the EPA is building on existing state efforts to reduce PFAS through this drinking water standard.

The agency plans to finalize this regulation by the end of 2023. After fully implementing this rule, the EPA anticipates reducing thousands of PFAS-caused illnesses and deaths.

2. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding

In February 2023, the EPA announced a budget of $2 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water across the U.S.

States and territories can receive various grants through the EPA’s Emerging Contaminants in Small Disadvantaged Communities program. These grants promote access to clean, safe water for communities in need.

3. Inactive PFAS Use Rule

In January 2023, the EPA proposed a rule preventing anyone from starting or resuming the manufacture, process or use of roughly 300 PFAS without a full EPA review. These chemicals are known as “inactive PFAS,” as they have not been manufactured or used for several years.

These inactive PFAS had previously been used across many industries as sealants, surfactants, gaskets and binding agents. Many of them have been released into the environment. Before this proposed rule, businesses could continue using these PFAS without notifying the EPA.

4. Final Effluent Limitations Guidelines Plan 15

The EPA released Effluent Limitations Guidelines Plan 15 in January 2023, proposing to revise pretreatment standards for limiting PFAS in leachate discharges from landfills. Plan 15 also outlines an expansion of the ongoing study of PFAS discharges from textile manufacturers.

Additionally, it includes a new study of PFAS in publicly-owned treatment works. The plan aims to evaluate the nature and extent of PFAS discharges, restricting their presence in industrial sources through the EPA’s Effluent Limitations Guidelines program.

5. Memo Addressing PFAS

In December 2022, the EPA issued a memo guiding states who issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Established by the Clean Water Act, the NPDES program aims to address water pollution by monitoring different sources that discharge contaminants to U.S. waterways or to Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs). This memo supersedes  a previous one issued in April 2022.

The Regulatory History of PFAS

For nearly 20 years, the EPA has made efforts to reduce PFAS in consumer products and the natural environment. Below are some PFAS litigation trends dating back to the early 2000s. All of the EPA’s actions to address PFAS prior to January 2021 are listed on its website.

1. PFOA Stewardship Program

In 2006, the EPA created a PFOA Stewardship Program with the goal of phasing out PFOA manufacturing. As part of their commitment to the program, eight businesses agreed to submit baseline data regarding their PFOA product content and facility emissions by October 31, 2006. The program’s goals included a 95% reduction in PFOA product content and emissions by 2010.

2. UCMR 3 Monitoring

Under the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3), the EPA conducted monitoring for PFAS in drinking water in May 2012. Every five years, the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act required the EPA to publish a new list of no more than 30 unregulated contaminants. This list was to be monitored by public water systems.

UCMR 3 required monitoring for 30 contaminants (two viruses and 28 chemicals) from 2013 to 2015. Entities could conduct this monitoring through EPA-developed analytical methods, consensus organizations or both. This monitoring rule aimed to guide future regulatory actions protecting public health.

3. Laboratory Method

The EPA developed a laboratory method (Method 537) for measuring PFOA, PFOS and 12 other PFAS in drinking water in October 2015. This research aimed to develop analytical methods for measuring priority pollutants in the country’s drinking water.

Method 537 required scientists from the EPA’s Office of Research and Development and National Exposure Research Laboratory to coordinate with the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water to identify relevant chemical contaminants requiring analytical method development for UCMR monitoring.

4. PFAS Strategy Recommendations

In November 2020, the EPA issued a memo outlining an NPDES permitting strategy to address PFAS in wastewater and stormwater. The agency advised permit writers to consider including PFAS monitoring in establishments where these chemicals were suspected in wastewater discharges.

The EPA’s second initiative was the development of analytical methods to test for PFAS in wastewater, groundwater, surface water, soil, fish tissue and other environmental sources. It released a list of 40 PFAS chemicals subject to testing with these analytical methods. These methods were added to the already approved Methods 537 and 533.

5. Interim Guidance on Destroying Non-Consumer Product PFAS

In December 2020, the EPA released interim guidance to help prevent public exposure to PFAS. This interim guidance outlined the treatments and techniques that could be used to destroy or dispose of PFAS that weren’t consumer products. The guidance covered six material categories:

  1. Aqueous film-forming foam
  2. Solids and biosolids
  3. Textiles
  4. Landfill leachate
  5. Spent water treatment materials (high-pressure membranes, ion exchange resins and activated carbon)
  6. Liquid, solid or gas waste streams from PFAS-manufacturing facilities

6. PFAS Action Act

In July 2021, the EPA released 2020 preliminary data for Toxics Release Inventory Reporting, which included the first-ever reporting on PFAS. The PFAS Action Act aimed to protect the environment and its citizens from PFAS by:

  • Guiding and setting national drinking water standards
  • Designating these chemicals as hazardous
  • Funding waterway cleanups across the nation

Manage EPA Compliance With TRC

Maintaining full compliance with the ever-changing PFAS requirements on your own can be difficult. Fortunately, TRC can help. Our environmental, health and safety management experts will work with your internal safety departments to ensure you’re up to date with EPA PFAS regulations. Our team can also provide an assessment of PFAS risk and liability and can help develop a PFAS risk mitigation or management plan.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you manage your EPA compliance.

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