Under Biden, U.S. EPA Expected To Pass Limits On PFAS

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These pollutants have quietly sneaked up on us so much that we have no standards set and it is past time to get moving.

Under Biden, U.S. EPA Expected To Pass Limits On PFAS

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

November 24, 2020

Though some lawsuits filed on behalf of the Trump administration contesting the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election remain unresolved at the time of this writing, drinking water treatment operations concerned with a particularly pervasive contaminant may have reason for optimism if and when likely successor Joe Biden takes office.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is already expected to set national drinking water limits for two … chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA,” according to Bloomberg Law. “President-elect Joe Biden’s EPA would be expected to set standards for both of those chemicals and possibly other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that states and federal agencies are finding in drinking water.”

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been found to cause long-lasting impacts on the health of those who consume them through drinking water and to remain in source water long after they find their way there. They have been detected in source and drinking water across the country, largely as the result of wastewater from industrial operations that leveraged them. While the U.S. EPA currently maintains drinking water advisories on PFAS, it does not strictly limit the amount of PFAS that are permissible in drinking water before it reaches consumers.

Though individual states have worked to set their own PFAS limits and hold the original polluters responsible, there are a number of additional actions that the executive branch could encourage the EPA to take.

“The EPA could quickly take several actions to control PFAS and get more information about them,” per Bloomberg Law. “These include requiring factories seeking Clean Water Act permits to disclose the PFAS they release and their volume; stopping approvals of new PFAS; removing a ‘loophole’ in a regulation that requires environmental release of certain PFAS to be reported, in order to increase the information the EPA receives; and barring PFAS incineration, pending information on impacts.”

Biden has pledged to designate PFAS as hazardous per the Superfund cleanup law and to set limits for them as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition to requiring more rigorous PFAS treatment by drinking water utilities, these actions would empower the EPA to sue polluters.

“The hazardous designation will lead to new reporting requirements for any release of the chemical over a certain threshold,” Inverse reported. “When this threshold is exceeded, an investigation is required along with a potential cleanup. And when a chemical is labelled hazardous, the EPA can sue polluters to recover cleanup costs.”

While this concerted approach to eliminating PFAS could have major impact on drinking water operations and the regulatory landscape in and of itself, it may also mark just one aspect of a trend that Biden’s administration will drive forward. It could be the beginning of a refocusing on drinking water quality issues and environmental concerns at large.

“If Biden’s plans do come through, it will mark a sea-change in the United States’ government approach to environmental regulation of dangerous chemicals,” per Inverse. “This plan isn’t just rebuilding the Obama years’ environmental regulations — it is building on them.”

To read more about how federal actions dictate drinking water treatment operations, visit Water Online’s Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.

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