PFAS Regulations

Updated on December 29, 2020

Federal Actions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has undertaken several concrete measures to address PFAS contamination in both drinking water and groundwater for the protection of public health. In November 2016, the EPA established health advisory levels (HALs) for PFOA and PFOS primarily for drinking water systems. These HALs were established per results obtained from scientifically reviewed studies that were conducted predominantly for this specific purpose. These HALs for PFOA and PFOS were set at seventy (70) parts per trillion (ppt) for both individual and combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS. More detailed information regarding HALs can be found on the following webpage from the EPA:

Supporting Documents for Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS | Ground Water and Drinking Water | EPA

In February 2019, the EPA released their PFAS Action Plan to address PFAS contamination in drinking water systems. A program update was published in February 2020. The highlights of this revised plan included:

  • Regulatory evaluation of drinking water standards for two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS
  • Commitment of EPA to monitor PFAS in the next Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) cycle
  • Identification of specific industries that are responsible for PFAS discharges to surface waters requiring further study and potential regulation
  • Issuance of interim recommendation in December 2019 to address PFOA and PFOS contamination in groundwater under federal cleanup programs
    • This guidance established a screening level of forty (40) ppt and a preliminary remediation goal (PRG) of seventy (70) ppt.
  • Continued progress in designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA
  • Inclusion of a complete list of one hundred and seventy-two (172) PFAS chemicals to Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) monitoring

On November 22, 2020 the EPA published an Interim strategy to address PFAS in the federally issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permits. The strategy is broadly classified into the following categories:

  • Phased-in monitoring and best management practices wastewater discharges
    • This strategy is primarily geared toward facilities where PFAS are expected to be present in the wastewater discharges.
  • Phased-in monitoring and stormwater pollution control for PFAS in stormwater discharges
    • The EPA recommends the implementation of pollutant control measures in MS4 and industrial stormwater permits with the presence of PFAS in stormwater discharges.
  • Continuation of information sharing related to permitting practices and establishment of information sharing platform

New Interim Guidance published by the EPA in December 2020

 

On December 18, 2020, the EPA released a new interim guidance document that addresses the destruction and disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials without the inclusion of any consumer products known to contain trace amounts of PFAS. The focus of this document is broadly classified into four major categories.

 

The first section provides a complete description of the various PFAS-containing materials as published in the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2020. These materials include but are not limited to:

  • Solid, liquid and gaseous waste streams originating from facilities that are known to manufacture PFAS or PFAS related products
  • Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) previously used to extinguish fire related incidents
  • Soils and Sewage sludge and Biosolids originating from municipal wastewater treatment plants that receives PFAS contaminated effluent from industries
  • Textiles not related to consumer goods that are treated with PFAS during the manufacturing process
  • Spent materials such as activated carbon, high pressure membranes, anion exchange resins which are frequently used for the treatment of PFAS contaminated streams

The second section focuses on the various technologies that are currently available for the complete destruction and disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials. Some of these methods include:

  • Thermal treatment using hazardous waste combustion technologies such as commercial incinerators, cement kilns, and lightweight aggregate kilns
    • However, due to limited data pertaining to the efficiency of these technologies in PFAS destruction at these facilities, the EPA is in the process of conducting more research and analyzing scientific data to assess the fate and transport of products of incomplete combustion during the PFAS destruction. The EPA also proposes to develop standardized methods for measuring PFAS emissions to measure the efficacy of thermal treatment used for PFAS destruction.
  • Disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials to hazardous waste (RCRA Subtitle C) or municipal solid waste (RCRA Subtitle D) landfills
    • The other landfills that are being currently considered and researched for PFAS disposal are industrial landfills, ash monofills, and construction and demolition (C&D) debris. Due to limited scientific data, the EPA is also planning to conduct extensive research for a better understanding of the chemistry between landfill liner integrity and PFAS and PFAS-containing materials. A set of existing landfill leachate treatment technologies for treating PFAS is also included in the discussion.
  • Injection of PFAS liquid waste streams into underground injection wells (Class I) that are effective to a varying degree in minimizing migration of PFAS into the environment
    • However, this process requires an extensive regulatory review process to secure a “no-migration” petition from the EPA. Due to limited data, this potential process is still being investigated and researched for its efficacy in PFAS containment.

These various PFAS destructive and disposal means comes with various degrees of uncertainties in management and containment to prevent further migration of PFAS into the environment. Currently, research is ongoing to resolve these uncertainties. In the meantime, the EPA has also suggested an alternative strategy of interim storage of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials for a duration of 2-5 years while resolving these uncertainties.

 

The third section of the guidance document addresses the need for adequate consideration pertaining to vulnerable populations that are situated close to PFAS destruction facilities and disposal sites. The EPA highly recommends including vulnerability and susceptibility factors into the various ongoing risk assessment studies to better protect this vulnerable population.

 

The final and fourth section discusses planned research and development initiatives undertaken by EPA pertaining to destruction and disposal technologies for PFAS and PFAS-containing materials. The objective is to provide continued research funding to develop new PFAS destruction techniques, better characterization of PFAS containing materials targeted for destruction, and continued assessment of the efficacy of the listed PFAS disposal methods.

State Regulations

 

The EPA’s effort in regulating PFAS compounds is an ongoing process with the final establishment of standards dependent on the results of various ongoing toxicological and environmental studies. These research initiatives are being carried out across various industries, private institutions, and local government research organizations. However, some states have taken individual initiatives to regulate PFAS compounds in the surface water, groundwater, and drinking water. Table A (bottom of this blog) presents a snapshot of some of the stringent PFAS standards that have been already promulgated into law for drinking water and/or groundwater in various states such as Vermont, Michigan, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Other states have also developed several PFAS guidelines or standards. A complete list of these standards can be located on the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) webpage (PFAS Fact Sheets).

The states that have adopted or are in the process of promulgating PFAS standards include Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas. Some of these states are using the EPA’s HAL of 70 ppt as groundwater quality/protection standard, and some are implementing a more stringent PFAS regulatory standard for drinking water. A detailed perspective of the measures adopted by these states in regulating PFAS compounds can be located in the ITRC resource center (PFAS Fact Sheets).

 

North Carolina

 

North Carolina has made significant progress in regulating PFAS compounds. Some initiatives they have implemented include but are not limited to:

  • Establishing an Interim Maximum Allowable standard for PFOA in groundwater at 2 parts per billion (ppb)
    • This has been developed but has not been enacted into law yet.
  • Proposing a Health Goal for GenX at 140 ppb in drinking water which is yet to be implemented into law
    • This health goal, even though not enforceable, can lead to increased monitoring at the affected facilities.
  • Establishing potential regulatory standards for PFOA and PFOS in groundwater at 70 ppt through the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) at North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ)

Additionally, per the Science Advisory Board, which reports to the EMC at NCDEQ, eight specific industries that discharge in the Haw River and Cape Fear River Basin have been advised to monitor PFAS levels in their effluent. This step is very similar to the EPA’s interim strategy for monitoring PFAS in discharges from facilities where PFAS is expected to occur.

 

Virginia

 

Virginia’s PFAS workgroup has adopted several strategies to regulate PFAS compounds in drinking water, surface water, and groundwater. Primarily the workgroup is focused on PFOA, PFOS, PFBA, PFHpA, PFHxS, and PFNA. These strategies include:

  • Identification of potential hot spots (air emissions and discharges) that are potentially contributing to PFAS contamination in surface water and groundwater
  • Identification of facilities (specific SIC codes) that are either are directly or indirectly linked to PFAS usage in their facilities
  • Identification of potential VPDES permitted facilities and POTW discharges that are known to discharge PFAS compounds into a receiving body of water
  • Identification of high potential discharges of PFAS near public water intakes
  • Identification of active and historic sites where previous fire training exercises have taken place using AFFF foam
  • Partnership with a Virginia university to better understand potential impacts of PFAS contamination in water and other aquatic resources by conducting water quality and fish tissue sampling
  • Potential revision of statutory authorities to include sampling in wastewater discharges and biosolids for specific PFAS compounds
  • Development of a risk communication plan

Once these strategies have been implemented, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) plans to initiate the following next steps:

  • Desktop review of all permitted dischargers known for historical use of PFAS compounds
  • Collection of additional information for historical and current usage of these compounds
  • Scheduling a meeting with utilities and industrial direct dischargers regarding these results and developing a monitoring plan
  • Surveying of potential sources in the first quarter of 2021

At Draper Aden, we are closely monitoring the regulatory efforts in North Carolina and Virginia to address PFAS contamination in drinking water sources such as groundwater and surface water. Personnel periodically communicate with state representatives to obtain any updates pertaining to the development and/or implementation of regulations to address this PFAS contamination in affected communities. The table below is a reminder of the stringent PFAS standards that states have been promulgating on an individual basis compared to the EPA’s recommended HAL of 70 ppt. This blog will be periodically updated to provide the most recent information about PFAS regulations in both North Carolina and Virginia.

 

Stay up to date with PFAS and learn more in our PFAS Resource Center.

Table A: a snapshot of specific PFAS compounds regulated in the states of

Vermont, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

States Type Standard PFAS Compounds Concentration (µg/L)
Vermont DW/GW MCL Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) 0.020
      Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) 0.020
      Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) 0.020
      Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHXs) 0.020
      Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) 0.020
         
Michigan DW MCL Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) 0.008
      Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) 0.016
      Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) 0.006
      Perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) 0.420
      Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHXs) 0.051
      Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) 400
         
Massachusetts DW MCL Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) 0.020
      Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) 0.020
      Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) 0.020
      Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHXs) 0.020
      Perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA) 0.020
      Perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) 0.020
         
New Jersey DW/GW MCL/GWQS Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) 0.014
      Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) 0.013