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EPA Issues Update on PFAS Strategic Roadmap

In October 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the PFAS Strategic Roadmap (Roadmap), an initiative for tackling the challenges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Fast-forward to December 2023, the EPA released a 2023 Annual Progress Report (2023-APR) with updates on the Roadmap.

The Roadmap outlined several programs that the EPA advanced to address the challenge of PFAS, including drinking water standards, regulation as hazardous substances/constituents, reporting requirements, data collection, toxicology studies, and research. This article provides highlights from the 2023-APR, including accomplishments and expectations.

Reminder: What are PFAS?

PFAS are man-made persistent chemicals used in the production of everyday items including food packaging, nonstick pans, paper, leather, and waterproof fabrics; industrial processes such as electroplating, semiconductors, paper, and textile production; and in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) used for fighting liquid-fuel fires. The PFAS family includes thousands of chemicals having diverse chemical properties and varying degrees of toxicity. PFAS chemicals have been linked to potential toxicity and bioaccumulation in humans and ecological receptors.

PFAS in Drinking Water

PFAS in drinking water were identified as a high priority in the Roadmap, and the 2023-APR includes three key action items.

  1.  The 2023-APR indicates that the EPA plans to release final maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) in early 2024. This follows the EPA’s proposed MCLs of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS, plus a hazard index of 1 for four additional PFAS compounds (PFNA, PFHxS, GenX, and PFBS). If finalized, the MCLs will not only become enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water but will establish a benchmark for regulatory compliance and remediation efforts across various industries.
  2. PFAS sampling in nationwide drinking water is being conducted under the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR5) to evaluate the occurrence and magnitude of PFAS impacts. The UMCR5 program requires all U.S. public drinking water systems serving 3,300 or more customers to monitor for 29 PFAS compounds (only one non-PFAS analyte, lithium, is included in UCMR5 sampling). Data collected under UCMR5 are publicly available.
  3. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) allocates funds for public utilities engaged in water provision or treatment to support the PFAS actions needed after establishing MCLs and collecting widespread PFAS data via UCMR5 sampling. The BIL includes $2 billion in funding designated for addressing emerging contaminants, with an emphasis on PFAS.   

Designating PFAS as ‘Hazardous Substances’

In August 2022, the EPA proposed regulating two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, as ‘hazardous substances’ under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), also known as ‘Superfund.’  If finalized, the CERCLA regulation would provide regulatory agencies with substantial leverage in advancing the cleanup of PFAS-impacted sites, including the potential to re-open sites. According to the 2023-APR, the EPA intends to finalize the CERCLA hazardous substance designation for PFOA and PFOS in early 2024.

The EPA is also evaluating an Enforcement Discretion Policy, which would provide guidance as to which sites would be primary targets for cleanup. The 2023-APR did not mention the Advanced Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), published in April 2023, which proposed to include seven additional PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances; its absence suggests that the additional PFAS named in the ANPRM are not a top priority for 2024, but that the focus will remain on the original proposal for PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA has also initiated rulemaking that would designate PFOA and PFOS as ‘hazardous constituents’ under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This RCRA designation would facilitate opening of RCRA-permitted hazardous waste facilities for PFAS investigation and cleanup. According to the 2023-APR, the RCRA proposal is under interagency review; the timeline for advancement is uncertain.

TRI and TSCA Reporting Requirements for PFAS

In October 2023, the EPA initiated or modified reporting requirements under both Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to increase data collection and availability related to PFAS in commerce. TRI reporting for PFAS had been required since 2020, but in 2023 the de minimis concentration of 1% (0.1% for carcinogens) was removed. Due in part to the complex mixtures associated with PFAS chemistry, the de minimis concentration had eliminated reporting requirements for all but a small number of entities; removing the de minimis concentration may substantially increase the number of entities subject to PFAS reporting under TRI.

TSCA reporting was initiated for manufacturers and importers of PFAS-containing materials (the TSCA reporting does not apply to PFAS users). Nearly 1,500 PFAS compounds are subject to this one-time TSCA reporting requirement, retroactive to 2011.

PFAS Permitted Discharge

The 2023-APR highlights actions taken by the EPA to address PFAS in water associated with permitted discharge. The EPA published a memo (December 2022) that provided guidance for state permit writers to include PFAS data collection in NPDES permits. Effluent Limit Guidelines (ELGs) published in January 2023 advance the planning process for rulemaking and data collection. While an increasing number of states are beginning to include PFAS in NPDES discharge permits, few states have begun imposing discharge limits. 

PFAS in Other Media

The EPA is also addressing PFAS in other media, including biosolids, surface waters, air, and food. 

  • PFAS and biosolids: the EPA has partnered with the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) to develop a Joint Statement of Principles (July 2023); the statement emphasizes preserving biosolids for beneficial reuse while protecting human health and the environment, as well as preserving livelihoods for those impacted by PFAS and biosolids. Risk assessments for PFOA/PFOS in biosolids are also underway and are scheduled to be released in 2024. 
  • PFAS and surface water: under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the EPA issued a guidance memo (December 2022) for state-level National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit writers to include PFAS monitoring in discharge permits; the memo advocates for PFAS data collection but does not (yet) provide discharge limits. Aquatic life criteria are also being developed. 
  • PFAS in air: an air Emissions Reporting Rule for PFAS was proposed in 2023 and is expected to be finalized in mid-2024. The proposed air monitoring would generate data to support more advanced air quality monitoring. 
  • PFAS in food: the 2023-APR mentions interagency efforts addressing PFAS impacts on the nation’s food supply. 

PFAS Destruction and Disposal Guidance

The EPA released an Interim PFAS Destruction and Disposal Guidance in December 2020. The guidance provided a state-of-the-science overview on three practices: incineration, landfilling, and deep-well injection. At that time, much remained to be learned about best practices for PFAS waste. The guidance ultimately did not endorse any of these approaches and even suggested that storing PFAS-containing waste may be sensible until these destruction/disposal options are better understood. In accordance with the 2023-APR, an updated guidance document is coming due in the winter of 2023-2024. As noted in the PR2023-APR there has been valuable progress in understanding PFAS technologies. We anticipate the updated guidance will address many (but not all) of the knowledge gaps that limited the 2020 guidance.

PFAS Analytical Methods

EPA Method 1633 was originally published in August 2021 and the 4th draft was released in July 2023. In accordance with the 2023-APR, the EPA plans to finalize Method 1633 “in the coming months.” Even as the method is becoming finalized, the EPA recommends that the draft method be required for PFAS analysis in NPDES permits.

PFAS Research and Development

The EPA is conducting active research addressing many of the data gaps associated with PFAS, including toxicology for a broader list of PFAS (including mixtures), analytical methods, treatment, and destruction technologies.

Social and Economic Considerations

As these PFAS-related programs are being implemented, the EPA is placing a strong emphasis on community considerations including Environmental Justice and “holding polluters accountable.” Much of the near-term data collection, and longer-term site cleanup, is being directed in accordance with these principles. Examples include, (a) directing a substantial fraction of infrastructure funding to small and disadvantaged communities, (b) prioritizing widespread/uniform data collection and transparency, and (c) conducting community engagement forums. 

What’s next?

Based on the EPA’s ambitious agenda as presented in the Road Map and updated in the 2023-APR, 2024 is anticipated to be eventful in the world of PFAS.

The EPA activities with the greatest expectations for near-term impacts activities include finalizing MCLs for PFOA/PFOS and hazardous-substance designation under CERCLA (also for PFOA/PFOS). Additional data will be collected and released under UCMR5, and Method 1633 may become finalized. The updated PFAS Destruction and Disposal Guidance document is also highly anticipated.

Trihydro will provide updated information as these anticipated regulatory changes occur.

Curious about how the latest PFAS regulatory developments impact you? We can help.

PFAS will continue to present a rapidly shifting landscape, in terms of regulations as well as underlying science. Trihydro is closely tracking these updates and our PFAS team has sampling and regulatory experience to help our clients navigate these changes.      

If you have PFAS-related questions, concerns, or challenges, drop your information into our contact form and we’ll schedule a time to discuss how you can prepare for and manage PFAS-related regulations.

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Mitch Olson, PhD, PE
Emerging Contaminants Director, Fort Collins, Colorado

Dr. Olson is a Professional Engineer with 23 years of experience in environmental engineering. His background includes hands-on experience with complex environmental issues at multiple scales of application. Dr. Olson provides technical advisement on a variety of projects involving hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents, and emerging contaminants, including perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Andrew Pawlisz Headshot
Andrew Pawlisz, DABT
Senior Toxicologist, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Andrew is a board-certified toxicologist with over 21 years of experience in risk assessment and evaluation; hazard assessment; and regulatory compliance, including the legacy and reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Andrew specializes in finding practical solutions to regulatory and human health/environmental issues related to toxicants.

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