Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, announced EPA’s Action Plan for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs).

PFASs are fire resistant and repel oil, grease, and water. They are used in consumer products such as stain-proof or waterproof carpeting, upholstery, clothing, leather treatment, fire-fighting foams, car washing cleaners, and cookware. However, there are possible links between the exposure to PFASs and kidney cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and other health issues. PFASs do not break down in the environment and therefore accumulate. The primary exposure pathways for PFASs are through consumption of fish, drinking water, and inhalation of dust.

Acting Administrator Wheeler highlighted key elements of the PFAS Action Plan:

  • By the end of 2019, EPA will develop a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFASs and specifically for two PFAS compounds known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Once an MCL is established, public water providers in the US will be required to test regularly for PFOA and PFOS and to treat water that exceeds the MCL for either substance.
  • EPA will list PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and may require the remediation of soil or groundwater that contains PFASs in excess of EPA’s existing Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion. This could prompt prospective buyers of real estate to investigate whether the property for sale or its surroundings are or were occupied by a manufacturer that used PFASs or whether fill containing PFASs was used at the site.
  • EPA will be expanding monitoring and data gathering relating to PFASs, including using enhanced mapping tools to identify PFASs in the groundwater and in the environment.
  • EPA is going to expand research into the impacts of PFASs on human health and the environment.
  • EPA will provide detailed information to the public and the regulated community regarding PFASs.

In addition, states such as Alaska, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont are adopting their own standards regarding PFASs. Some of these are stricter than EPA's 70 ppt threshold. Additional states are expected to define standards for PFASs.