EPA PFAS Drinking Water Limits May Be Much Lower Than Predicted
For many years, the question of the EPA PFAS drinking water limits centered on “when will the EPA set binding limits for PFAS in drinking water?” With the EPA’s introduction of the PFAS Strategic Roadmap in October 2022, the question shifted away from “when” to “what will the EPA’s PFAS drinking water limit be in Fall 2022?” The EPA’s recent data submission to the Science Advisory Board is a strong indicator that the EPA may intend to regulate at least two types of PFAS – PFOA and PFOS – more aggressively than many initially believed. The lower the limit that the EPA sets in 2022, the greater the impact on companies’ finances as a result of PFAS water pollution enforcement actions.
Science Advisory Board Data
On November 16, 2021, the EPA released a press release indicating that it had submitted to the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) draft scientific documents regarding the health effects of certain types of PFAS, most notably PFOA and PFOS. Significantly, the EPA’s data and scientific documents indicate that “negative health effects may occur at much lower levels of exposure to PFOA and PFOS than previously understood and that PFOA is a likely carcinogen.” Following peer review, this information will be used to inform health advisories and the development of Maximum Contaminant Level Goals and a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS. The EPA reiterated in its press release that it is committed to developing a PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for publication in Fall 2022.
EPA PFAS Drinking Water Levels – Business Impacts
Many states have stepped in and created enforceable limits for PFAS in drinking water. The permissible levels range widely, generally within the 5 parts per trillion (ppt) to 70 ppt range. Many have argued that when the EPA sets a a PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, it will fall somewhere near the midpoint in this range. However, the data submitted regarding PFOA and PFOS, particularly the “likely carcinogen” categorization for PFOA, suggests that the EPA’s regulation for PFOA and PFOS may fall well below the 30-40ppt range that many felt was a reasonable estimate.
In states that currently have PFAS drinking water standards in place, businesses have seen an uptick in enforcement actions related to PFAS remediation costs. If the EPA were to set significantly lower PFAS drinking water standards than initially predicted, it will naturally mean that the EPA will have a broader pool of alleged polluters to choose from for pursuing PFAS remediation costs. Depending on the scope of the PFAS pollution issue, cleanup costs can range anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
Now more than ever, the EPA is clearly on a path to regulate PFAS contamination in the country’s water, land and air. The EPA has also for the first time publicly stated when they expect such regulations to be enacted. These regulations will require states to act, as well (and some states may still enact stronger regulations than the EPA). Both the federal and the state level regulations will impact businesses and industries of many kinds, even if their contribution to drinking water contamination issues may seem on the surface to be de minimus. In states that already have PFAS drinking water standards enacted, businesses and property owners have already seen local environmental agencies scrutinize possible sources of PFAS pollution much more closely than ever before, which has resulted in unexpected costs. Beyond drinking water, though, the EPA PFAS plan shows the EPA’s desire to take regulatory action well beyond just drinking water, and companies absolutely must begin preparing now for regulatory actions that will have significant financial impacts down the road.