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Clean Water Current

EPA Roadmap Reveals Biden Administration’s Regulatory Strategy for Addressing PFAS

October 20, 2021

EPA released its much-anticipated PFAS Roadmap October 18 detailing how the Agency plans to tackle PFAS in the months and years ahead. NACWA is reviewing the PFAS Roadmap and is preparing additional analysis and information on how particular items in the PFAS Roadmap may impact members and how the Association plans to respond. In the meantime, NACWA has a few initial takeaways.

The PFAS Roadmap builds upon the 2019 PFAS Action Plan and 2020 PFAS Action Plan Update and is a comprehensive outline of actions and timelines EPA will take to address PFAS under several federal statutes – including the Clean Water Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The actions largely follow the direction that NACWA anticipated the Agency to head, with a few curveballs.

Of great significance to clean water utilities as well as myriad other stakeholders, the PFAS Roadmap states that EPA plans to initiate a proposed rulemaking to list PFAS as a hazardous substance under the CERCLA by Spring 2022. It appears the Agency will attempt to directly achieve this through a CERCLA hazardous substance listing, something the Agency has never done before, and not through another environmental statutory hook or mechanism, like a hazardous waste listing under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) or a toxic pollutant listing under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

NACWA is concerned about the potential liability and implications for passive receivers of PFAS like POTWs and MS4s and will be advocating for a limited exemption for these receivers under CERCLA. NACWA and others had anticipated EPA might use RCRA or the CWA to trigger a hazardous substance listing instead of going directly through CERCLA, so this is an interesting development.

EPA's PFAS Roadmap also identifies a new initiative – a national PFAS testing strategy to "deepen understanding of the impacts of categories of PFAS." The initiative will require testing under TSCA. According to the PFAS Roadmap, the Agency plans to leverage its authority under TSCA Section 4 to require PFAS manufacturers to conduct and fund the studies and anticipates the first round of testing orders on certain PFAS manufacturers and processors by the end of 2021.

NACWA is encouraged by EPA's efforts to address PFAS at its source and making sure the polluters – who put PFAS into the environment in the first place – are held accountable. While there is no mention of eliminating or voluntarily phasing out non-essential uses, these heightened TSCA efforts will help with source control of PFAS and preventing their introduction into the environment.

EPA's Roadmap further outlines plans to "prioritize efforts to evaluate conventional thermal treatment of PFAS-containing wastes and air emissions and to assess the effectiveness of conventional drinking water and wastewater treatment processes." The Agency is looking to evaluate and advance innovative, non-thermal technologies to treat PFAS-laden waste and PFAS-contaminated materials. Data collection on destruction and disposal is underway and will inform an updated version of the Agency's interim guidance published in 2020.

EPA also plans to identify initial technology-based PFAS categories for treatment by Summer 2022. It is unclear what technologies or categories EPA will be targeting first. The PFAS Roadmap, however, signals the Agency is seeking to develop effective PFAS treatment technologies for drinking water systems by next fall. It is unclear if these will be membrane-based or carbon-based advanced treatment technologies or something else. It is also unclear if these technologies will influence PFAS removal in wastewater treatment.

As for issues specific to the water sector, the following items can be found in the PFAS Roadmap:

  • EPA will finalize Ambient Water Quality Criteria for PFOA and PFOS in Winter 2022 and Human Health Criteria for PFOA and PFOS in 2024.
  • EPA will propose monitoring requirements for federally issued NPDES permits using Method 1633 for 40 PFAS chemicals (this is already happening in Massachusetts per EPA's 11/2020 Memo, but now there is a "valid method" published online). NACWA has initial concerns with this method. EPA will also provide guidance to states to use/implement Method 1633 into NPDES permits.
    • EPA will additionally propose NPDES permits include: 1) conditions on product elimination/substitution when there are alternatives available in the industrial process; 2) a requirement for BMPs for firefighting foams in stormwater; 3) enhanced public notification requirements and engagement with downstream communities/drinking water utilities, 4) a requirement for pretreatment programs to include source control and BMPs to protect POTWs and biosolids.
  • EPA will begin the multi-laboratory validated study for Method 1633 in 2022 and a proposed promulgation into 40 CFR Part 136 thereafter. 
  • EPA will finalize the Total Florine analytical method by Fall 2021.
  • EPA will implement a multi-faceted Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) program including:
    • Restrict PFAS discharges from the categorical industries identified in draft ELG Plan 15: restrict PFAS discharges from organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers (OCPSF) and proposed rulemaking coming in 2024 to restrict PFAS discharges from metal finishing and electroplating;
    • Continue the Multi-industry Study;
    • Initiate, if the data exists, a possible rulemaking for textile mills, electrical/electronic components, and landfills;
    • Address whether future regulatory action is needed for pulp, paper, paperboard and airports as part of EPA Plan 15.
  • EPA will finalize the biosolids risk assessment by Winter 2024 and thereafter, if needed, finalize biosolids standards (likely 2025 or later – later than NACWA expected).
  • EPA will update the existing interim PFAS destruction/disposal guidance by Fall 2023. 
  • EPA will expand Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting for PFAS chemicals beyond the current 172 identified PFAS chemicals.
  • EPA will finalize the toxicity assessments for GenX, PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFDA (no timeframe provided).
  • EPA will include fish tissue monitoring in the 2022 National Lakes Assessment.
  • EPA will finalize National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for PFOA and PFOS. The proposed rulemaking is set for Fall 2022 with a final regulation coming Fall 2023. EPA has a statutory deadline to propose drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS by March 2023.
  • EPA will publish non-regulatory, non-enforceable health advisories for GenX and PFBS.
  • EPA will finalize UCMR5 that requires all drinking water systems serving populations of 3,300 people or greater, pending Congressional appropriations, to sample during a 12-month period for 29 PFAS chemicals. This is a deviation from prior UCMRs that only required testing for large public water systems or smaller public water systems identified by EPA. Testing for additional PFAS chemicals are to be considered as part of UCMR6.
  • EPA will identify sources of PFAS in air emissions and develop monitoring approaches for measuring stack emissions.

Clearly, the PFAS Roadmap is broad in scope and in potential impact to the clean water sector, and there is a lot here to digest. NACWA is continuing to review the PFAS Roadmap and will provide members with additional information and analysis soon. 

The Association remains committed to pursuing a "polluter pays" approach to addressing PFAS that places liability on the manufactures of the chemicals, not clean water utilities, and will be advancing that message in its continued advocacy with EPA on this critical topic.

If members have questions or initial feedback, please do not hesitate to email or call Emily Remmel, NACWA's Director of Regulatory Affairs at eremmel@nacwa.org or 202-533-1839.

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