The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing three actions to protect communities and the environment from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the nation’s waters. The actions announced today advance progress under the Biden-Harris Administration’s Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution by improving methods to detect PFAS in water, reducing PFAS discharges into our nation’s waters, and protecting fish and aquatic ecosystems from PFAS. These efforts complement the historic investment of $10 billion to address PFAS and emerging contaminants secured under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“EPA is using all available tools to address PFAS contamination as part of a broader, whole of government effort to protect communities across the country from these chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This is why we put a Strategic Roadmap in place, and why President Biden fought for billions in funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to tackle this challenge. Today’s actions help protect the health of all Americans as we deliver on our commitment to research, restrict, and remediate PFAS.”
A New Testing Method Will Help Detect PFAS in Water
Robust, accurate methods for detecting and measuring PFAS in air, land, and water are essential for understanding which PFAS are in the environment and how much are present. Detection methods are also essential for evaluating the effectiveness of different technologies for remediating PFAS and for implementing future regulations.
EPA is publishing a new method that can broadly screen for the presence of PFAS in water at the part per billion level. EPA’s new Screening Method for the Determination of Adsorbable Organic Fluorine (AOF) in Aqueous Matrices by Combustion Ion Chromatography (CIC) provides an aggregate measurement of chemical substances that contain carbon-fluorine bonds. PFAS are a common source of organofluorines in wastewater. This new method is especially useful for understanding the presence and forms of PFAS in wastewater when used in conjunction with methods that target individual PFAS. EPA’s Draft Method 1621 has successfully completed single laboratory validation. Multi-laboratory validation will take place this summer and EPA intends to publish an updated version of the method later this year.
New Permitting Direction Will help Reduce Discharges of PFAS to Waters
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program interfaces with many pathways by which PFAS travel and are released into the environment and ultimately impact people and water quality. EPA is seeking to proactively use existing NPDES authorities to reduce discharges of PFAS at the source and obtain more comprehensive information through monitoring on sources of PFAS.
The EPA issued a memo titled, Addressing PFAS Discharges in EPA-Issued NPDES Permits and Expectations Where EPA is the Pretreatment Control Authority. This memo provides instructions for monitoring provisions, analytical methods, the use of pollution prevention, and best management practices to address discharges of PFAS. These provisions will help reduce PFAS pollution in surface water as the agency aggressively embarks to promulgate effluent guidelines, multi-validated analytical methods, and water quality criteria recommendations that address PFAS compounds. EPA also plans to issue new guidance to state permitting authorities to address PFAS in NPDES permits in a future action.
New Protective Levels Will Help Support Healthy Fish and Aquatic Ecosystems
EPA is also developing national recommended ambient water quality criteria for PFAS to protect aquatic life. States and Tribes may use EPA-recommended water quality criteria to develop water quality standards that protect and restore waters, issue permits to address PFAS discharges, and assess the impact of PFAS pollution on local communities and the environment.
EPA is proposing the first Clean Water Act aquatic life criteria for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—two of the most well-studied chemicals in this group. The criteria are intended to protect aquatic life in the United States from short-term and long-term toxic effects of PFOA and PFOS. Following the comment period, EPA intends to issue final PFOA and PFOS recommended criteria, considering public comments and any new toxicity data. States and Tribes may consider adopting the final criteria into their water quality standards or can adopt other scientifically defensible criteria that are based on local or site-specific conditions.
For more information on EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, visit PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA's Commitments to Action 2021-2024