by Brent Henebry, LEP
Last week the U.S. EPA issued four interim drinking water health advisories to update their 2016 advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other emerging contaminants in drinking water. (For background on PFAS, please see our “PFAS, What you Need to Know” blog here.) Small and disadvantaged communities have been disproportionately affected by these dangerous chemicals, and these modified advisories aim to proactively help these underserved communities and they align with the EPA’s upcoming National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFOA and PFOS.
The 2016 guidelines set health risk thresholds to 70 parts per trillion. Last week’s advisories, which are based on new scientific evidence and consider lifetime exposure, set the interim lifetime non-cancer health advisories (iHA) to 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA and 0.02 parts per trillion for PFOS. This is a substantial change that reflects the EPA’s stance that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and that are below EPA’s ability to detect at this time. This decrease in recommended exposure levels is to protect the public’s health. While many manufacturers have voluntarily halted their use of PFAS and PFOA, there is reason to believe that they are still being used in some instances and the risk to human health is ongoing because of the chemicals’ lack of ability to break down.
Additionally, many manufacturers switched to newer “shorter chain” chemistries to replace PFAS and PFOA use that were thought to be not as toxic. These include “GenX” [hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt] and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS). The EPA is also issuing final health advisories for these shorter chain chemicals, as they have been shown to affect the liver, kidneys, immune system, and development, and they have been linked to cancer. The new final health advisories are 10 parts per trillion for GenX chemicals and 2,000 parts per trillion for PFBS.
But the EPA isn’t just naming the problem, they are helping communities solve the problem. With these advisories comes an invitation for funding. States and territories are encouraged to apply for a portion of $1 billion, the first of $5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant funding that can be used to reduce PFAS in drinking water in communities facing disproportionate impacts. These funds can be used to address emerging contaminants in drinking water through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems. This funding complements $3.4 billion in funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and $3.2 billion through the Clean Water SRFs that can also be used to address PFAS in water this year. To receive grant funding, states and territories should submit a letter of intent by August 15, 2022. Information can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/dwcapacity/emerging-contaminants-ec-small-or-disadvantaged-communities-grant-sdc.
Fuss & O’Neill is available to help. Our Emerging Contaminants Taskforce has been on the forefront of this issue, leading presentations, writing white papers, and developing standard operating procedures for sampling to prevent cross-contamination with everyday products.
For more information, please contact:
Brent Henebry, LEP
Emerging Contaminants Taskforce Director