By Katherine M. Bennett, Fabio Dworschak
June 17, 2022
After months of speculation, on June 15, 2022, EPA issued its drinking water health advisory for four commonly used PFAS: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS. EPA’s drinking water health advisories provide information on the levels of a specific contaminant that EPA believes is safe for people to consume. These levels are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, but many states and tribes use these levels as benchmarks for setting their own drinking water levels. Click here to read the current regulations in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho.
EPA’s new health advisory levels (HAL) for PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PFBS are:
- Interim updated HAL for PFOA: .004 parts per trillion (ppt)
- Interim updated HAL for PFOS: .02 ppt
- Final HAL for GenX: 10 ppt
- Final HAL for PFBS: 2,000 ppt
PFOS & PFOA HALs
EPA’s new PFOA and PFOS HALs have taken many by surprise. Although many expected EPA to lower these HALs (previously set at 70 ppt for these chemicals individually or combined), few, if any, expected EPA to set the new PFOA HAL at .004 ppt or PFOS HAL at .02 ppt. Not only are these new levels several orders of magnitude lower than the prior PFOA and PFOS HALs, they are also the lowest in the nation.
EPA’s new PFOA and PFOS HALs are also significantly below the current detection limit of 4 ppt, leading many to wonder how regulated entities will be able to demonstrate compliance with the new HALs, as testing for and achieving these near-zero HALs are nearly impossible. These interim HALs will be in place until EPA publishes its PFAS National Drinking Water Regulations (proposed rule expected by Fall 2022).
GenX and PFBS HALs
Unlike PFOA and PFOS, EPA’s new GenX and PFBS HALs are the first of their kind for the agency. Currently, only a few states have a GenX standard. One of the lowest is found in North Carolina, where the standard is 140 ppt or 14 times EPA’s new GenX HAL of 10 ppt. As with the PFOA and PFOS HALs, EPA’s GenX HAL is the lowest in the nation.
EPA’s PFBS HAL of 2,000 ppt, on the other hand, is not the lowest in the nation. Washington, for example, sets its PFBS action level at 345 ppt.
Repercussions for Regulated Entities
Although the newly released HALs are non-enforceable standards, they are likely to set benchmarks or points of comparisons for states and tribes seeking to implement or revise their own drinking water standards. This may lead to greater exposure and liability for entities as federal and state environmental agencies look to crack down on the use of these PFAS. To lower this exposure and risk, regulated industries may be forced to review their supply chains and manufacturing processes to ensure they either minimize or eliminate PFOA, PFOS, GenX, or PFBS from their operations.
Additionally, regulated industries should be on the lookout for EPA’s continued implementation of its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a publication that lays out EPA’s approach to addressing PFAS. This is especially true when it comes to EPA’s use of these HALs as support for designating these substances as hazardous substances under CERLCA or hazardous waste under RCRA or to set clean up levels in current and future remediation sites.