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EPA Targets PFAS

EPA Targets PFAS—But Is Your State Ahead of the Game?

Chemicals Clare Condon Tuesday - January 2, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently launched an initiative to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The federal initiative will basically provide information and support state attempts to regulate the substances. States and the EPA are also keeping an eye on alternatives developed to replace PFAS. How are these efforts affecting your operations?

What Are PFASs?

PFASs are a large group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1950s. They are persistent, meaning they stay in the bodies of humans and animals for a long time, and they do not break down in the environment.

Common PFASs include:

  • Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA aka C8)

  • Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)

  • Perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA)

  • Perfluorooctane sulfonaminde (PFOSA aka FOSA)

  • 2-(N-Methyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid (MeFOSAA aka Me-PFOSA-AcOH)

  • 2-(N-Ethyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetic acid (Et-FOSAA aka Et-PFOSA-AcOH)

  • Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)

Although some types of PFASs are no longer used, some products may still contain PFAS. These include:

  • Food-packaging materials

  • Nonstick cookware

  • Stain-resistant carpet treatments

  • Water-resistant clothing

  • Cleaning products

  • Paints, varnishes, and sealants

  • Firefighting foam

  • Some cosmetics

Drinking Water, TSCA and CERCLA

People are exposed to PFASs through food, disposal of consumer products that contain PFAS, and drinking water. The EPA has established drinking water advisories for PFOA and PFOS. The EPA has also collected data on six PFAS substances in public drinking water systems and is evaluating this information to determine the next steps.

In addition to the drinking water health advisories, according to the Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC), the EPA has applied Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to PFOS in four separate actions and to 277 chemically-related PFASs. These SNURs placed significant restrictions on the use and import of PFASs, allowing only limited uses in select industries and for certain applications.

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), PFASs are not listed as CERCLA hazardous substances but may be addressed as CERCLA pollutants or contaminants (40 CFR 300.5). According to the ITRC, CERCLA investigations are beginning to include PFAS. PFASs have been reported for 14 CERCLA sites during 5-year reviews.

What About Alternatives?

U.S. manufacturers committed to voluntarily phase out the manufacturing of PFOA and PFOS. However, there is some concern about the safety of alternative/replacement chemicals, including GenX, a replacement for PFOA manufactured by Chemours that has been implicated in drinking water contamination issues in North Carolina because of a spill at a Chemours facility in Fayetteville.

In this new initiative, the EPA claims it will be stepping up its work to gather and evaluate additional scientific information about PFAS-alternative chemicals, like GenX, to identify risks and determine if it is necessary to set drinking water health advisory levels or take other actions.

What Are States Doing?

According to the most recent information compiled by the ITRC, 15 states (AK, CT, CO, DE, IA, ME, MI, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NC, OR, TX, VT) have developed standards or guidance values for PFAS in groundwater, drinking water, and/or wastewater. Five states (AL, AZ, CO, MA, WV) have adopted the EPA health advisories for PFOA and PFOS as their drinking water standard/guidance.

In addition, four states (AK, MI, NC, TX) have developed PFAS residential soil screening levels for groundwater protection, and eight states (AK, DE, MI, MN, NV, NH, NC, TX) have developed PFAS human health soil screening levels.

In addition to these standards/guidance values, some states have gone further to specifically regulate PFAS. Here are some examples.

New Jersey recently became the first state to set formal maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) requiring statewide testing of public drinking water systems for PFOA and PFNA.

Vermont regulates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous wastes (with some exemptions) when present in a liquid above a certain concentration.

New York identifies certain PFAS found in firefighting foams as hazardous substances and specifies storage and registration requirements. If there is a release above a certain threshold, it is considered a hazardous waste spill and subject to applicable requirements.

Washington requires the reporting of PFOS in children’s products.

People who work at PFAS production facilities or facilities that manufacture goods made with PFAS may be exposed in certain occupational settings or through contaminated air.

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