Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released four health advisories for the group of contaminants regularly referred to as “forever chemicals”—perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Specifically, the EPA released two interim updated drinking water health advisories for PFOA and PFOS as well as two final health advisories for GenX and PFBS. Health advisories are designed to provide technical information on chemical and microbial contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act provides authority for the EPA to establish health advisories for contaminants that are not subject to any national primary drinking water regulation. Health advisories are intended to describe the concentrations of drinking water contaminants at which consumption is not anticipated to result in adverse health effects over specific exposure durations. While health advisories are not regulations and are therefore not legally enforceable federal standards, they are generally viewed as clear-cut levels for action and have previously resulted in states adopting the levels as state regulatory standards.

The levels outlined in these health advisories are as follows:

  • PFOA (interim): 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt);
  • PFOS (interim): 0.02 ppt;
  • GenX (final): 10 ppt; and
  • PFBS (final): 2,000 ppt.

The interim health advisories for PFOA and PFOS replace the previously finalized health advisories for these two PFAS, which were both set at 70 ppt when they were finalized in 2016. Of note, both of these new interim health advisories are magnitudes lower than the levels at which these two contaminants can be detected at, which the EPA frequently references as either 4 or 5 ppt. This poses significant questions, concerns and challenges for water systems as they begin to grapple with how to deal with these low levels—now in the parts per quadrillion. The EPA has stated that these interim health advisories are intended to be informative until a drinking water regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act takes effect.  

HEALTH ADVISORY FACT SHEET

In addition to issuing the health advisories, the EPA also provided a fact sheet for public water systems, which includes recommended actions for drinking water systems. These recommended actions include drinking water systems undertaking additional sampling where sample levels are above the health advisory levels and notifying their state drinking water safety agencies where sampling results show levels above the health advisories. However, as noted above, since two of the advisory levels are below detection limits, it may be difficult or even impossible for water systems to have sufficient data necessary for reporting.  

GRANT FUNDING ANNOUNCED

Also today, the EPA opened its invitation for states and territories to apply for the $1 billion available in grant funding in fiscal year 2022. Funding is intended to support projects that address the challenges of PFAS in drinking water, whether found in public water systems or in source water. This is the first allocation out of the total $5 billion that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law affords to help communities, especially small or disadvantaged communities, address PFAS. Per the EPA, “Funding will be provided to participating states and territories to benefit small or disadvantaged communities in scoping, planning, testing and remediating emerging contaminants in drinking and source water.”