Congress Takes Steps to Regulate PFAS in Water
The House passed the PFAS Action Act, as other PFAS legislation remains pending
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to swiftly enact limits on some PFAS chemicals in drinking water and declare them hazardous substances, a move that could allow for the cleanup of contaminated sites across the country.
The bill’s passage in the House follows an announcement this week by President Joe Biden’s administration, which publicly threw its support behind the legislation, known as the PFAS Action Act. It now moves to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
What the Bill Would Do
One of the most significant aspects of the PFAS Action Act would require the EPA to establish national drinking water standards within two years for PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, and PFOS, or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, two well-studied PFAS compounds.
The EPA’s process to set limits for PFOA and PFOS is underway, but the traditional regulatory process would take several years to complete. Currently, the agency has a voluntary guidance level at 70 parts per trillion combined for both compounds.
Many public health experts think those levels are far too high, with some recommending limits of just 1 ppt for total PFAS.
CR’s chief scientific officer, James Dickerson, PhD, agrees that when it comes to PFAS, “the lower the better.” CR’s scientists say the maximum allowed amount should be 5 ppt for a single PFAS chemical and 10 ppt for two or more.
The legislation would also define PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances within one year, which would force cleanup of known contaminated sites to begin, and require the EPA to determine whether to list other PFAS within five years. Discharge limits on industrial releases of PFAS would be set, too, and $200 million would be provided annually for wastewater treatment.
The two chemicals would also be designated as hazardous air pollutants within 180 days. Comprehensive PFAS health testing would be required, and it would also create a voluntary label for PFAS in cookware.
Managing As a Class?
Earlier this month, the EPA heeded to calls by advocates and scientists to manage the chemicals as a class, announcing that it would consider potential regulation for PFAS.
In a July 12 statement, the agency released a list of drinking water contaminants that it considers a priority. Under federal law, the EPA must release what’s called a Contaminant Candidate List every five years that covers currently unregulated contaminants that may require regulation. The agency’s inclusion of PFAS as a class was a surprise to some advocates.
The agency is seeking comments on the draft list, and it expects to publish the new list next year. Though inclusion on the list doesn’t immediately impose any new regulations, the EPA says adding all PFAS for consideration of potential limits is part of its “commitment to better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by PFAS.”
“It’s a positive development that the EPA is thinking about this and acknowledging the problem,” Ronholm says. “It remains to be seen whether this starts the agency toward a path that results in meaningful regulatory action.”