EPA PFAS MCL for Drinking Water

Earlier today EPA finalized a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) establishing legally enforceable levels, called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), for six PFAS in drinking water. PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, and HFPO-DA as contaminants with individual MCLs, and PFAS mixtures containing at least two or more of PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA, and PFBS using a Hazard Index MCL to account for the combined and co-occurring levels of these PFAS in drinking water. EPA also finalized health-based, non-enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) for these PFAS.

For two types of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — EPA set the MCLs at 4 parts per trillion. The agency said it’s the lowest possible level it can enforce, based on the ability to reliably measure and remove these contaminants from drinking water.

The new federal MCLs are much lower, and more restrictive, than Pennsylvania’s current MCL of 14 parts per trillion and 18 parts per trillion, respectively, for those two types of PFAS.

The EPA will also regulate three other types of PFAS chemicals — PFNA, PFHxS and GenX chemicals —- at 10 parts per trillion. Through the Hazard Index MCL the agency will limit any mixture of two or more of those chemicals, as well as PFBS.

Water providers will have up to two years to test their water for PFAS, and if high levels of the chemicals are found, they will have another two years to install treatment systems.

The EPA estimates between 6% and 10% of public drinking water systems currently do not meet the agency’s new PFAS standards. The agency estimates it could cost more than a billion dollars for water providers to meet the new regulations.

The new standards do not apply to private water wells, which aren’t regulated by state or federal agencies.

However, EPA is making unprecedented funding available to help ensure that all people have clean and safe water. In addition to today’s final rule, $1 billion in newly available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.

PFAS was discussed during the Chemicals of Concern Panel at the recent Water Equity Summit and it was clear that much more needs to be done to address the health impacts of PFAS.

At the Summit Women for Healthy Environment shared some policy recommendations beyond drinking water standards:

Federal Policy :

•        Regulate PFAS as a class to avoid harmful substitutions
•        Require WWTP monitoring to determine the sources of environmental PFAS contamination and to target response
•        Invest in sustainable chemistry research to find safe alternatives to PFAS

State Policy:

•        Prohibit the sale and distribution of PFAS in consumer products in the state (food packaging, cosmetics and hygiene, building materials, and more)
•        Require and publicly disclose the testing of WWTP influent and effluent to assess PFAS contamination

Also, here is WHE’s PFAS policy brief (written in 2021 but updated this year):

Autumn Crowe, Interim Executive Director for WV Rivers summarizes the situation:

We commend EPA in taking this much needed and long overdue action to protect public health and limit PFAS in drinking water. More work is needed to reduce PFAS at its source and hold companies accountable for PFAS contamination so that taxpayers and water utilities are not shouldered with the cost of removing PFAS from drinking water sources.

West Virginia has a PFAS Protection Act which is intended to identify sources of PFAS discharged into waters used for public drinking water.

Finally, if you really want to get into the details of the new rule but are not ready to read the Federal Bulletin, EPA is holding three informational webinars for communities, water systems, and other drinking water professionals.

The webinars will be similar, with each intended for specific audiences. Registration is required to attend. The webinar recordings and presentation materials will be made available following the webinars.