Seismic Shift: EPA Slashes Recommended PFAS Limits in Drinking Water

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is drastically slashing recommended limits for “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

This week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released four drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the latest action under the Biden Administration’s action plan to deliver clean water and Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. EPA also announced that it is inviting states and territories to apply for $1 billion – the first of $5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grant funding – to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, specifically in small or disadvantaged communities.

The agency is releasing PFAS health advisories in light of newly available science and under the EPA’s responsibility to protect public health. Health advisories provide technical information that federal, state, and local officials can use to inform the development of monitoring plans, investments in treatment solutions, and future policies to protect the public from PFAS exposure.

The interim health advisory levels are:
  • PFOS: 0.02 parts per trillion (ppt)
  • Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA): 0.004 ppt

That is a seismic shift from the 70 ppt the EPA recommended in 2016 and far below detectable levels (the best labs can currently detect about 0.10 ppt).

It is worth noting that most of the public’s exposure to PFAS comes not from drinking water but from clothing, food packaging, and dust. In addition, there are numerous other sources of exposure, such as carpets, upholstered furniture, bedsheets, et cetera.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Department of Health will work with local governments to determine the next steps for eliminating detectable levels of PFAS, including in the 127 local water systems across the state. In addition, MDE and MDH will have to figure out how to handle bottled water (currently not tested) and private wells.

$1 Billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding

As part of a government-wide effort to confront PFAS pollution, EPA is making $1 billion in grant funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities mitigate PFAS contamination, the first of $5 billion through the Law 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 like PFAS in drinking water through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems.

EPA will be reaching out to states and territories with information on how to submit their letter of intent to participate in this new grant program. This funding complements $3.4 billion in funding going through the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and $3.2 billion through the Clean Water SRFs to address PFAS water contamination this year.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo successfully supported legislation to establish and expand several prohibitions and requirements that relate to the manufacture, sale, and distribution for sale or use of “intentionally added” PFAS chemicals. In addition, MACo secured amendments to help local fire departments adequately dispose of any remaining PFAS foam without subjecting them to an unfunded mandate.

Visit the EPA website for more information, and stay tuned to Conduit Street for updates in the weeks ahead.