STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – The U.S. EPA said Thursday it will this year begin the process of setting maximum contaminant limits for PFOA and PFOS, two toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer and other illnesses and are widespread in drinking water and soil.
The agency released a long-awaited Action Plan on how to manage contamination by the two chemicals and others in the PFAS family.
“EPA is moving forward with a maximum contaminant level process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most well know and prevalent PFAS chemicals,” said the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water, Dave Ross.
“By the end of this year, EPA will propose a regulatory determination, which is the next step under the Safe Drinking Water Act, for establishing an MCL,” Ross said.
He said the EPA is also looking at whether to regulate other chemicals in the PFAS family.
Ross said the decision to begin PFAS regulation was contrary to a recent press report that the EPA had decided not to set national standards for the chemicals.
As part of its plan, EPA has also begun the process of listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. That will help communities deal with existing contamination and recover costs from responsible parties.
Ross said EPA will also publish recommendations “very soon” on cleaning up the two chemicals in groundwater, an important source of drinking water for many communities.
The plan will include expanded monitoring for PFAS and will add the chemicals to its Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Program. Ross said the agency’s latest testing showed that about 1 percent of public water systems had at least one sample with PFOA and PFOS concentrations greater than 70 parts per trillion, the agency’s current health advisory limit for the chemicals.
He said EPA will also step up its research into the human health and ecological effects of PFAS, will look at contamination pathways and the costs of curbing the substances, with special attention to emerging replacements for PFAS chemicals, notably GenX.
“Our goal is to close the gap on the science as quickly as possible,” Ross said.
PFAS-contaminated water is still being found below several communities in Bucks and Montgomery counties, several miles from the water’s origin on a nearby military base.
StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF, WHYY, WESA and the Allegheny Front to report on the the commonwealth’s energy economy.