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June 2022 – New PFAS Advisories Released by US EPA

New PFAS Advisories Released by US EPA

On June 15, 2022, US EPA released drinking water health advisory levels for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The health advisory levels (HALs) included revised targets for the chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that are far more stringent than those identified under the Obama administration’s lead. Inside EPA reported that one senior administration official said that US EPA is setting advisory levels for PFOA of 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) and 0.02 ppt for PFOS, which is several orders of magnitude stricter than the 70-ppt level that the Obama administration set for combined levels of the pair. According to a White House-release, the “health advisories reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to follow the science and up-to-date public health information.”

Specifically, US EPA released interim updated drinking water Lifetime Health Advisories for (PFOA) and (PFOS) that replaced those issued by US EPA in 2016. The updated advisory levels are based on what the White House referred to as “new science” indicating that “some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero.” US EPA also released final health advisories for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS), and hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA) and its ammonium salt (often referred to as “GenX” chemicals). In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is considered by the chemical industry as a replacement for PFOS.

An immediate question from clients and regulators alike is “Can laboratories reliably detect these compounds at these concentrations?” and the answer is “not right now.” One result of these new HALs is that laboratories are being challenged to develop reliable, precise, and accurate technologies that can identify these chemicals at these concentrations. Environmental Standards’ Chemists are available and ready to help clients evaluate testing and reporting obligations of these new PFAS limits. Indeed, at this point, it is realistic to assume that if you detect PFOS and PFOA in your water supply at any concentration, you have a problem.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the nation’s premier chemical industry trade group, reacted to the new limits by expressing concern. “ACC supports the development of drinking water standards for PFAS based on the best available science. However, today’s announcement of revised Lifetime Health Advisories (LHAs) for PFOA and PFOS and new Advisories for PFBS and the GenX chemicals (HFPO-DA) reflects a failure of the Agency to follow its [own] accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process.

Of particular concern to all PFAS chemistries stakeholders is that many regulations targeting other environmental media (soil, groundwater, surface water, and air, and remediation standards) are developed based on US EPA’s HALs. The exact impact these strict new levels will have on industry and commerce is uncertain, but what is clear is that these new HALs will cause virtually all industry and commercial enterprises to rethink the use of PFAS in their products.

Gerry Kirkpatrick, P.G.

Managing Partner