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EPA Week in Review: PFAS Edition

Trump Administration aggressively addresses PFAS, continues its commitment to supporting state, tribal, and local communities

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WASHINGTON (July 31, 2020) — This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a series of announcements regarding the Trump Administration’s aggressive actions to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Here's what it looked like around the country: 

PFAS Research Workshop: What They Are Saying

On Monday, EPA announced a Workshop on Federal Government Human Health PFAS Research. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal family engaged with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to coordinate the two-day virtual public workshop to review federal agency research on PFAS and identify research and data gaps.

EPA is working across the federal family to ensure that our research on the potential health concerns associated with PFAS is properly coordinated, complementary, and avoids unnecessary duplication,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This workshop will highlight the depth of PFAS research across the federal government and identify data gaps.”

“This independent review by the National Academies is an important step to leverage the extensive work ongoing across federal entities and will help determine what further research needs to be conducted in order for us to most effectively continue our PFAS response.  As the Chair of DoD’s PFAS Task Force, I will tell you that DoD’s participation in this workshop is part of the Department’s commitment to ensure the health and safety of our men and women in uniform, their families, and the communities in which we serve,” said Jordan Gillis, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment.

USDA supports measures that foster healthy, viable, and sustainable agricultural farming practices,” said Dr. Scott Hutchins, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area. “This public-private collaboration is a critical step in finding workable solutions for our nation’s farmers.”

“Similar to other agencies within the federal family, understanding the health effects of exposures to PFAS continues to be a priority for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR),” said Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC and Administrator of ATSDR. “This virtual workshop with the National Academies is a welcomed opportunity to discuss and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on this topic.”

EPA Moves Forward on New PFAS Policies

In July alone, EPA has made significant progress implementing the PFAS Action Plan — the most comprehensive cross-agency plan ever to address an emerging chemical of concern.

On Monday, EPA transmitted two new PFAS proposals to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review.

  1. EPA submitted the Interim Guidance on the Destruction and Disposal of PFAS and Materials Containing PFAS. The guidance would provide information on technologies that may be feasible and appropriate for the destruction or disposal of PFAS and PFAS-containing materials. It would also identify ongoing research and development activities related to destruction and disposal technologies, which may inform future guidance. Yesterday’s action is the first step toward EPA fulfilling its FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) obligation to publish interim guidance on the destruction and disposal of PFAS within one year.
  2. EPA transmitted the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR 5) proposal to OMB for interagency review. Consistent with EPA’s commitment in the PFAS Action Plan and the requirements of the FY 2020 NDAA, EPA anticipates proposing nationwide drinking water monitoring for PFAS under UCMR 5 utilizing new methods that can detect PFAS that could not be detected before as the new methods detect more PFAS chemicals at lower concentrations than previously possible.

EPA Publishes Action that Strengthens PFAS Regulations

On Tuesday, EPA’s final Significant New Use Rule for long-chain PFAS published in the Federal Register. This final rule strengthens the regulation of PFAS by requiring notice and EPA review before the use of long-chain PFAS that have been phased out in the United States could begin again. Additionally, products containing certain long-chain PFAS used in a surface coating and carpets containing perfluoroalkyl sulfonate chemical substances can no longer be imported into the United States without EPA review.

EPA Provides Help Where It Is Needed

Just as important as the progress on PFAS at the federal level, EPA has formed partnerships with states, tribes, and local communities across the country. These joint projects allow EPA to take the knowledge of its world class scientists and apply it in a collaborative fashion where it counts most.

“With federal technical assistance efforts underway across the country, the Trump Administration is bringing much needed support to state, tribal, and local governments as part of the agency’s unprecedented efforts under the PFAS Action Plan,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These partnerships allow for collaboration, encourage cutting edge research, and information sharing—ensuring that our joint efforts are effective and protective of public health.”

Here’s a look at some of EPA’s technical assistance and research around the country:

Region 1

  • “Addressing PFAS across New England is a priority for EPA in order to further protect public health in the region,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. “We’re working closely with our state and tribal partners to advance the science around PFAS where it’s needed most.”

  • New Hampshire: EPA has been working with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and ORD scientists to help in New Hampshire’s efforts related to PFAS contamination in the Merrimack area. In response to a request from NHDES, ORD initiated a project aimed at furthering New Hampshire’s understanding of PFAS compounds in the environment as a result of ongoing air emissions from two facilities that use PFAS in their manufacturing processes. EPA has performed research-level analyses on air, water (ground/surface), soil, char and dispersants, and this information has been used to help inform NHDES’s efforts to develop an air permit for one such facility in Merrimack.

  • Learn more here.

Region 2

  • “Working in close partnership with states, tribes, and local communities across the country, EPA is focused on PFAS reductions and protecting public health,” said EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez. “EPA Region 2 is providing positive and proactive leadership in addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and this area continues to be an active and ongoing priority for EPA.”

  • New Jersey: EPA is the lead in overseeing work being conducted under a RCRA Corrective Action Permit at the Chemours Chambers Works complex located in Deepwater, N.J. Chemours runs a sampling program for private drinking water wells in the vicinity of the facility and when needed, has provided point-of-entry treatment systems or has connected residences to public water supplies. EPA has worked closely with local and state officials and has developed several approaches to assist with public communication. At the request of EPA, Chemours is working on a public web page that will include site-related documents. Chemours is also working on a public participation plan, and has a Community Advisory Panel.

  • New York: EPA was approached by members of the rural community of Hoosick Falls, N.Y. about perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in their drinking water above the EPA health advisory level that was then in effect. EPA has been working collaboratively with the community and with the state since the agency became involved.

  • Learn more here.

Region 3

  • “EPA is collaborating with our state and local partners in the Mid-Atlantic Region to address PFAS and mitigate risks to communities,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “Our collective efforts are making a difference in determining necessary actions to protect public health and the environment.”

  • West Virginia: At the request of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, EPA scientists analyzed PFAS samples collected during air emission testing at an industrial facility near Parkersburg. The results helped demonstrate the effectiveness of emissions controls for GenX and other legacy perfluorinated carboxylic acids.

  • Learn more here.

Region 4

  • “PFAS is a priority for EPA both nationally and across the Southeast,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. “From grants, to technical assistance and research, to enforcement – EPA Region 4 is proud to support and partner with states, tribes and local communities to address the myriad of challenges that these emerging contaminants pose.”

  • Alabama: EPA has invested $984,000 in Public Water System Supervision supplemental grants, which included sampling of over 280 drinking water systems in Alabama for PFAS and other emerging contaminants.
  • North Carolina: To address concerns about PFAS from the Chemours facility in Fayetteville, N.C., EPA collaborated with the state of North Carolina to determine the nature and extent of contamination, understand the toxicology and mitigate risks. This included work to support the state's establishment of a health advisory level for GenX in water. NCDEQ and EPA have worked to understand and reduce PFAS releases from the facility and limit exposure. In addition, EPA supported the development of a protocol for stack sampling for PFAS at the facility and continues to coordinate with NCDEQ to better understand the potentially wider range of PFAS chemical in facility air emissions.
  • Learn more here.

Region 5

  • “EPA remains fully committed to our partners and communities throughout the Great Lakes Region as we continue to make progress in addressing PFAS contamination,” said Regional Administrator Kurt Thiede. “The collaborations formed through the PFAS Action Plan continue to result in new knowledge and understanding of PFAS, leading to results that protect public health.”

  • Great Lakes: As part of EPA’s long-term monitoring programs, EPA is collecting and analyzing whole fish tissue, sediment, air, and water samples to determine concentrations and trends of PFAS in the Great Lakes. EPA is participating in a multi-Agency technical working group to share information and develop technical reference materials related to froth-like PFAS-containing foams seen on surface water bodies in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Prior to formation of this working group, EPA provided non-regulatory technical assistance in developing sampling methods for analyzing PFAS-containing foams present at several lakes in the state of Michigan and in summarizing literature findings on dermal and inhalation exposures.

  • Learn more here.

Region 7

  • “Staff from all Region 7 programs are collaborating with state partners to jointly tackle PFAS contamination at industrial, military and Superfund sites in Kansas and Nebraska,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford. “PFAS has been around since the 1940s, so solving this challenge requires the considerable collective capabilities of federal, state, tribe and local governments.”

  • Kansas: EPA Region 7 staff, Air Force and Army environmental specialists, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) are working together to sample and assess PFAS contamination at military installations including Fort Riley in Junction City and McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita. At the Fort Riley Superfund Site, during spring 2020, environmental staff conducted a PFAS Site Inspection. EPA’s Regional Lab reviewed and provided data analysis for split samples collected by KDHE during the site inspection.
  • Nebraska: In March 2020, EPA announced a $99,000 Small Business Innovation Research contract to AirLift Environmental LLC in Lincoln, Nebraska, to develop a remedial treatment to remove PFAS and associated co-contaminants from soil and groundwater.
  • Learn more here.

Region 8

  • “EPA Region 8 is focused on supporting our federal, state and local partners as they investigate and respond to PFAS concerns affecting water resources in our communities,” said EPA Region 8 Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “I commend our partners in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming for successfully navigating many challenges to make sure people are receiving safe drinking water. We will continue to provide community engagement, technical expertise, and other resources necessary to secure public health as we move forward with key actions under the national PFAS Action Plan.”

  • Colorado: In a multi-year effort, EPA with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), El Paso County, the U.S. Department of the Army, the U.S. Air Force, affected public water systems, and other entities worked to mitigate exposures from PFAS in drinking water and address community concerns in the Security/Widefield/Fountain areas near Colorado Springs, Colorado. EPA staff played key roles in conducting community engagement activities, providing technical assistance on groundwater sampling plans, evaluating human health and toxicological concerns, and funding private well sampling to determine the extent of contamination in the area.
  • South Dakota: EPA is working with the State of South Dakota, the City of Box Elder, and DOD at Ellsworth Air Force Base to address PFAS contamination, including providing technical assistance and public engagement.
  • Learn more here.

Region 9

  • “EPA continues to provide technical support and funding to address this emerging contaminant,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “We are working with our partners throughout the Pacific Southwest and in the Pacific Islands to assess the potential risk to drinking water that may be impacted by PFAS contamination in an effort to safeguard water supplies in our region.”

  • Arizona: EPA helped fund Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) Public Water System Source Screening for PFOA and PFOS. Of the 109 samples collected from drinking water wells and analyzed for PFOA and PFOS, 89 had no detectable levels, 14 were below the EPA Health Advisory of 70 parts per trillion (PPT), and six were above the advisory level.
  • Guam: EPA collaborated with the Guam EPA to develop preliminary PFAS vulnerability Assessment for drinking water wells on the island. The assessment was conducted using EPA well head protection area analysis methods. The agency also provided technical document review and consultation for Guam EPA on PFAS cleanup and disposal issues.

    Learn more here.

Region 10

  • “We’re happy to provide some extra scientific ‘horsepower’ in the effort to protect public health,” said EPA Pacific Northwest Regional Administrator Chris Hladick. “When our state and local partners need a little extra capacity or expertise, we’re honored to deliver that support. Our partnership with states and other federal agencies has furthered national research aimed at better understanding PFAS and PFOA and how to protect our drinking water.”

  • Alaska: EPA is delivering technical assistance to the North Slope Borough (NSB) and Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS) in analyzing PFAS in Imikpuk Lake near the native village of Utqiaġvik. With the help of EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), a study plan was developed and shared with the project partners (North Star Borough, ICAS, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and University of Alaska). The lake (near the former site of the Naval Arctic Research Lab and airstrip) was tested for PFAS by the Navy in 2017 and PFOA and PFOS levels were found to be above EPA's Lifetime Health Advisory level. EPA scientists have begun analyzing Lake water, sediment and fish samples previously collected by the University.
  • Learn more here.

Technical Assistance: What They Are Saying

“ADEQ appreciates EPA's support to help Arizona prepare to address an emerging drinking water challenge,” said ADEQ Water Quality Division Director Trevor Baggiore. “Through EPA funding, ADEQ will build on our 2018 efforts to assess potential PFAS contamination in Arizona. The information gathered will help ensure public water systems continue to provide healthy drinking water for Arizonans.”

“Guam EPA benefits tremendously from the technical assistance we receive from U.S EPA Region 9,” said Guam EPA Administrator Walter S. Leon Guerrero. “Our island’s ability to evaluate risks associated with PFAS contamination, waste management and containment assessment will flourish with our continued collaboration and broadened support from Region 9.”

“EPA Region 9 staff have provided valuable insights into the occurrence and potential sources of PFAS in public water systems in California. This collaboration helps to inform this state’s regulatory decisions to address sources of PFAS, and to protect public water systems in California,” said State Water Boards Executive Director Eileen Sobeck.

“The PFAS coordination by EPA Region 10 has been very helpful in sharing our approaches and activities with our neighboring states,” said Washington State Department of Health Toxicologist Barbara Morrisey. “As questions come up, Region 10 has been fantastic at bringing in speakers from EPA ORD, Office of Water, and TSCA to keep us informed about the latest EPA tools and research.”

Learn more about EPA’s technical assistance and research across the country:

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used by a variety of industries since 1940. Common applications of PFAS include water and stain repellant materials, as well as fast-acting firefighting products. While the use of older variants of PFAS have been widely discontinued, legacy uses and a lack of commercially viable alternatives to certain public safety products (e.g. fire-fighting foams) have resulted in PFAS contamination in certain areas.

In 2019, EPA issued the PFAS Action Plan – the first multi-media, multi-program, national research, management, and risk communication plan to address an emerging contaminant like PFAS. The PFAS Action Plan outlines the tools EPA is developing to address PFAS in drinking water, identify and clean up PFAS contamination, expand monitoring of PFAS manufacturing, increase PFAS scientific research, and promote effective enforcement tools. Additionally, it outlines EPA’s commitment to take a wide variety of actions to address this emerging contaminant in both a short-term and long-term timeframe.

Learn more about EPA’s PFAS research: