EPA plans new PFAS standards before year's end

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Equipment used to test for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) in drinking water at Trident Laboratories in Holland, pictured on Monday, June 18, 2018. Trident Labs added testing for perfluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, in March after toxic contamination was identified at a former tannery near Rockford.

Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday they plan to create new standards for PFAS contaminants in drinking water before year's end after certain steps including public comments are taken.

EPA officials said that it intends to establish a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFAS and PFOA, so-called forever chemicals, as outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act. This would ensure the nation has safe water to drink and consume, the federal officials said, but not as stringent and soon enough for some environmental groups.

The EPA currently has a health advisory level for PFAS in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion that was established in 2016, but officials did not indicate what new level they plan to set.

Dave Ross, the assistant administrator for water at the EPA, told reporters in a conference call that the new action plan will address the contaminant level issue and whether the more regulation "is appropriate for other chemicals in the PFAS family."

The agency already has begun the regulatory process for listing PFOA and PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund statute, Ross said. And the EPA, he said, will release interim groundwater cleanup recommendations for sites contaminated with PFAS and PFOA.

Michigan has at least 30 such sites.

"Groundwater is a source of drinking water for many communities across the country and it is vital for our nation's agricultural sector," Ross said. "These recommendations will give states a much-needed framework to facilitate timely clean-up efforts that are protective of groundwater."

The EPA said it will take into account public input, modern research and advice from its drinking water advisory board before developing the new level.

These chemicals, officials say, have been found in the drinking water for more than 16 million citizens across the country, including Michigan, where there have been outbreaks in PFAS contamination in drinking water from Western Michigan to Kalamazoo.

In announcing the plan today, EPA officials say it is taking steps in how "we research, monitor, detect and address PFAS."

But some environmental groups criticized the EPA's plans.

Researchers at the Environmental Working Group said the plan would only make the nationwide crisis of pervasive pollution from fluorinated compounds worse and fail to curtail the "introduction of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS chemicals in everyday products, alert Americans to the risk of PFAS pollution or clean up contaminated drinking water supplies."

“Once again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is the nation’s first pro-cancer president,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG, which has studied PFAS chemicals for almost 20 years.

“This so-called plan is actually a recipe for more PFAS contamination, not less,” Faber said. “It’s shameful that the EPA has taken two decades to produce a plan that allows increased exposure to compounds whose makers have used the American people as guinea pigs and, with the EPA’s complicity, covered it up.”

Ross said the EPA will better monitor PFAS and will include it in the next nationwide drinking water monitoring under the unregulated contaminant monitoring program.

EPA officials said they will introduced a PFAS "risk communication tool box" that includes materials that states, tribes and local communities can use to communicate the threat with the public.

"We owe it to the American public to be able to explain in very simple and easy to understand terms what are the risks that they face in their daily lives," Ross said.


(313) 222-2620