The Environmental Protection Agency this week released new drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, and said it will issue a proposed PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation this fall.
The new lifetime health advisory levels are lower than the maximum levels set by New York State in 2020 and lower than what can currently be detected by testing technologies.
EPA does not currently regulate PFAS levels in drinking water. The agency instead has issued lifetime health advisories for certain unregulated contaminants, including two PFAS chemicals.
This week, EPA issued updated lifetime health advisories for two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, to replace the current lifetime health advisories issued in 2016. The agency also issued new lifetime health advisories for “GenX chemicals” (hexafluoropropylene oxide, or HFPO, dimer acid and its ammonium salt and PFBS (perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt.)
The new lifetime health advisories for PFOS and PFOA lowered the lifetime health advisory from 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L), or 70 parts per trillion to 0.004 nanograms per liter (ng/L), or 4 parts per quadrillion.
The updated advisories were issued because analyses of more recent health effects studies show that PFOS and PFOA can impact human health at exposure levels much lower than reflected by the 2016 lifetime health advisories, the EPA said in the updated advisories.
The proposed rule now being developed by EPA will for the first time set drinking water maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFAS. EPA said it is also evaluating additional PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS and considering actions to address groups of PFAS. The agency said it expects the proposed rule to be finalized by fall of 2023.
The health advisories are intended to provide guidance to states, tribes, and water systems for the period prior to the regulation going into effect, the agency said.
New York State in 2020 adopted maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.
EPA also announced this week it is making available $1 billion in grant funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities deal with PFAS contamination. In total, the law authorized $5 billion in funding that can be used to reduce PFAS in drinking water “in communities facing disproportionate impacts.” These funds can be used in small or disadvantaged communities to address emerging contaminants, such as PFAS, in drinking water through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems, the agency said.
Last fall, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced a “PFAS Strategic Roadmap” for dealing with the contaminants. The document sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions and commits to establishing new policies to safeguard public health, protect the environment and hold polluters accountable.
PFOS/PFOA are synthetic chemicals used for a variety or purposes in many different industrial processes — and consumer products. PFOA is being phased out, but is still used to make household and commercial products that resist heat and repel stains. PFOS is used in fire-fighting foam.
The chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time, according to the EPA. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
“People on the front lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” the EPA administrator said in a press release issued Wednesday.
PFAS contamination is known to exist in various locations in the Town of Riverhead, including in one Riverhead Water District well, where the district is currently implementing a multi-million dollar filtration system.
PFAS chemicals were detected in groundwater at the former Northrop Grumman site in Calverton as early as 2016 and has been migrating off-site, apparently impacting private drinking water wells south and southeast of the former Naval manufacturing facility, which was shut down in 1994. Well-water testing at residences in the area confirmed PFAS contamination in the area, with the chemicals present in some wells at levels higher than the state allows.
PFAS contamination at levels exceeding state standards has also been confirmed in several private residential wells in Calverton near the terminus of the Long Island Expressway. PFAS was detected at more than three times the maximum contaminant level in one private residential well on the west end of Middle Road.
A survey by the State Department of Environmental Conservation last fall showed PFAS contaminations at levels up to more than 10 times the state drinking water standard at the Riverhead landfill site on Youngs Avenue. The state said the Suffolk County Department of Health Services would begin testing private drinking water wells downgradient of the landfill — that is, northeast of the site. The DEC initially identified 15 private wells considered to be at risk for contamination.
Riverhead Town in February 2021 brought a federal lawsuit against three major chemical manufacturers seeking compensatory and punitive damages for groundwater contamination by chemicals manufactured by the companies, the 3M Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, and the Chemours Company. That action is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
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