EPA to Unveil Long-Awaited ‘Action Plan’ on Curbing Toxic PFAS Chemicals

Jon Hurdle | February 14, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Concern that agency won’t immediately set enforceable health standards

Credit: Michigan DEQ
Investigating a potential dump site for the presence of PFAS
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will announce today a long-awaited plan for how to manage the toxic PFAS class of chemicals, which has contaminated drinking water and soil in many parts of the United States including New Jersey.

The agency said its “Action Plan” will include monitoring and cleaning up the chemicals, which are linked to cancer and other health conditions including high cholesterol, low birth weights, and immune system problems.

But it is unclear whether the agency will also propose enforceable Maximum Contaminant Limits (MCLs) for drinking water, which advocates say are essential for protecting human health against the chemicals. Implementation of any new standards could take years.

“EPA’s Action Plan will move forward with the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS — two of the most well-known and prevalent PFAS chemicals,” the agency said Wednesday.

More monitoring, more research

According to a Congressional aide who was briefed late Wednesday, it will be a five-part plan that includes more monitoring, more research, and listing the chemicals as hazardous substances that would enable communities to go after polluters.

Any move to propose MCLs would come as a surprise after a recent report from Politico that the EPA had decided not to set national standards for the chemicals despite calls from campaigners and state officials for it to establish levels that would protect public health.

Enforceable national standards would replace the EPA’s current health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined, a level that campaigners say is not stringent enough to protect public health.
David Andrews, senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, a national advocate for PFAS curbs, said he expects the EPA to nudge the regulatory process forward but not to propose specific MCLs.

“The next step would be a regulatory determination that they would pursue MCLs so if they follow that process it would be an incremental step,” Andrews said.

This story originally appeared on the website of StateImpact Pennsylvania, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.