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Epa Proposes New Primary Drinking Water Standards For Certain Pfas Chemicals Under The Safe Drinking Water Act

On March 14, 2023, the EPA announced proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for six PFAS chemical compounds. The rule would limit the amount of PFOA perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) to four parts per trillion (or ng/L) in drinking water across the nation.  Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, “GenX chemicals”), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) would be regulated at a combined amount according to a complex formula; the EPA will likely provide an online tool by which providers may input the concentrations of these chemicals they find to determine whether they are in compliance.

The EPA released health advisory limits for certain PFAS chemicals last June. This regulation was expected to follow. The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register and then will then be open for public comment. The EPA will also hold a public hearing on May 4, 2023, at which members of the public may present verbal comments regarding the proposed regulation.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, last amended July 2019, allows the EPA to establish national standards for public drinking water sources. Public water sources are those that provide water to at least fifteen service connections or that regularly serve twenty-five individuals. The regulations only apply to public water systems that treat water; systems that provide water but are not responsible for the treatment are not affected by the rules. The Act allows for the promulgation of primary regulations, which are mandatory and enforceable by law and secondary regulations, which provide recommendations to promote public health.

By February 2023, twenty-four states had enacted some regulatory standards regarding the amounts of certain PFAS chemicals allowed in drinking water. Others had passed legislation to allow regulation and one had proposed regulations that had not been promulgated. The specific chemicals and the amounts of those chemicals allowed in drinking water varies widely by state. The levels proposed in the EPA regulations are lower than any state regulation (though California requires notification to consumers when the level of PFHxS reaches 3 ppt).

Critics suggest this may be detrimental to communities with limited resources already facing issues related to their water systems. The regulation may require these systems to choose between updating and replacing current infrastructure, including the replacement of lead pipes, and implementing the technologies necessary to remove PFAS chemicals. The proposal is part of a set of initiatives the Biden administration is taking through the EPA to reduce the amount of PFAS in the environment and their affects on human health.