EPA Declines to Set Limit for Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

According to EPA sources and reporting by Politico, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not set a drinking water limit for poly- and perflouorinated compounds (PFAS). PFAS are a toxic group of industrial chemicals used in a wide variety of products, including firefighting foam and nonstick products. PFAS have more recently been linked with kidney and testicular cancer, hypertension, and other ailments. Chemical companies, as well as the Department of Defense, could potentially be liable for contaminated groundwater near hundreds of military installations and chemical facilities.
Last month, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler approved a management plan for  perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOA). Under the plan, there will be no numerical limit on the amount of PFOS and PFOA that can be present in drinking water. However, the plan does include language to list those two chemicals as hazardous under the Superfund law. Such a decision would force polluters to pay for the cleanup of those chemicals, including pollution of drinking water.
Without a specific numeric limit on PFOS and PFOA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), water providers will face no federal requirements for testing for, and removing, the chemicals from drinking water. Several states have independently enacted, or are enacting, numerical limits on the substances for drinking water. In 2016, EPA issued a lifetime health advisory (LHA) of 70 parts per trillion (PPT) for the PFAS chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). However, these LHA’s are not enforceable, and have been criticized as being dangerously high.
In his public testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier in January, Acting Administrator Wheeler would not commit to the Agency setting a drinking water standard for PFOS and PFOA. That lack of commitment could complicate Wheeler’s confirmation as full Administrator of the Agency, as Senators from both parties have pressed EPA to take action to keep those substances out of drinking water. The Committee’s vote on Mr. Wheeler’s nomination is currently scheduled for February 5.

Since we published this advocacy news item, EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator David Ross has released the following statement:
“Despite what is being reported, EPA has not finalized or publicly issued its PFAS management plan, and any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature. The agency is committed to following the Safe Drinking Water Act process for evaluating new drinking water standards, which is just one of the many components of the draft plan that is currently undergoing interagency review.”