The federal Environmental Protection Agency today announced its proposed drinking water standard for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.
The proposed standard would limit PFOA and PFOS to 4 parts per trillion, considered the lowest level at which they can be reliably measured.
For the four other PFAS contaminants — PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals — EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of them using an established approach called a hazard index calculation to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan signed the proposed rule yesterday and the agency released the prepublication version today. The EPA said in its announcement the proposed rule is being submitted for publication in the Federal Register, which will commence a 60-day public comment period.
See: More information from the EPA on the proposed regulations.
The EPA released new drinking water health advisories for PFAS last June, and said it at the time it planned to issue a proposed PFAS national drinking water regulation in the fall.
The updated lifetime health advisories health advisories 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 — lower than what can currently be detected by testing technologies.
The updated advisories were issued because analyses of more recent health effects studies showed 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 last year’s updated advisories.
New York State in 2020 adopted maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS.
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.
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 in the fall of 2021 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 is monitoring private wells downgradient from the landfill site considered to be at risk for contamination.
Riverhead Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini said the PFAS treatment system at Plant Five, the district’s only plant with known PFAS contamination, will be completed this summer. Mancini said he thought a drinking water standard at 4 parts per trillion is not good policy because the current detection limit is 2 or 3 PPT. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for developing an action plan, Mancini said.
Mancini said he is concerned about PFAS contamination in the northwest portion of the EPCAL site, within a 50- to 100-year capture zone of the water district’s Plant 7 on the north side of Fresh Pond Road, which he said currently has phenomenal water quality. He said he learned of that contamination at the last Residents Advisory Committee meeting for the former Naval Weapons Reserve Plant site, held late last year. He said complained to the Navy and asked the State DEC to require a boundary line pump and treat system on the property line, but has been frustrated by the agencies’ lack of response.
“You can’t rely on natural attenuation (or dilution) to take care of it over time,” Mancini said, noting the persistent nature of these contaminants. Besides, he said, as time goes by, we can expect the standards to become lower and lower.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign from the Environment, said in an interview today the proposed rule is “a game changer.”
“Locally, it means there will be more wells that will need to be filtered,” Esposito said, “but it will offer more protection to public health.”
Esposito said she hopes a federal drinking water standard will prompt action by the Navy to address PFAS contamination on the former Grumman site and provide funding for public water connections to people south of the site. The Navy has pointed to the lack of a federal standard for PFAS as a reason to avoid responsibility for contamination in some nearby wells.
“The Navy needs to do their due diligence and clean up their mess,” Esposito said.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment is urging N.Y. state to act quickly to strengthen its existing maximum contaminant levels for for PFOA and PFOS to align with EPA’s new regulations. Once adopted, it’s a national standard that the state will have to conform to anyway, she said.
Comments on the proposed regulations, once published, can be submitted through the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, at www.regulations.gov.
More information on the EPA’s proposal, available on the EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) webpage.
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