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EPA Announces New (Lower) Health Advisories for PFAS in Drinking Water

As thousands of drinking water professionals gathered in San Antonio last week for the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA’s) annual conference, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new drinking water health advisories for four perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances. According to the agency’s press release, the advisory recommendations build upon EPA’s progress and inform additional efforts, such as the forthcoming National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS, which is expected this fall.

The EPA’s advisory states that the concentrations in parts per trillion (ppt) of these chemicals in drinking water should be at or below:

  • 0.004 ppt for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • 0.02 ppt for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
  • 10 ppt for hexafluoropropylene dimer acid (GenX)
  • 2,000 ppt for perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS)

The EPA also states the health advisory indicates the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur. This significant decrease from existing health advisory levels (70 ppt for the aggregate concentration of PFOA and PFOS) takes into consideration a wide range of lifetime exposure to various sources of PFAS and the adverse health impacts, particularly with sensitive populations. AWWA responded with a press release in which the association points out that while industry professionals are dedicated to reducing exposure to harmful levels of PFAS, water utilities do not currently have the ability to measure PFOA and PFOS at the new advisory levels as these levels are far lower than the testing capabilities of any modern analytical laboratory.

In a statement, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, warns that the health advisory will cause confusion among those responsible for the country’s drinking water systems and that the “impossible levels” will lead public to believe water is unsafe. She said, “No water system in the country—in fact, not even bottled water—will be able to demonstrate compliance with standards EPA has set today.”

While these recommendations are not enforceable regulations, as enforceable standards and health advisory levels decrease, it creates a significant demand on technical experts, equipment, and raw materials necessary to reduce levels of PFAS contamination in drinking water. These new advisory levels will likely inform future regulatory measures that address PFAS in drinking water. As such, the EPA also announced $1 billion in grant funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be available to address PFAS in drinking water, especially in small communities or for utilities that serve disadvantaged populations. This funding is earmarked for technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems.

Woodard & Curran has helped water utilities implement PFAS treatment systems that achieve non-detectable concentrations.  We also have extensive expertise in PFAS forensics, with experience assisting clients in identifying the source of PFAS in groundwater. We are poised to help clients across the country begin planning for compliance in preparation for future regulatory measures that could be even more stringent.

Author

Rob Little National Practice Leader Drinking Water

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Rob Little PE National Practice Leader Drinking Water
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