On August 17, 2023, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the first of twelve datasets (representing approximately 7% of the total data that it plans to collect) on 29 polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and lithium (an alkali metal) in our nation’s drinking water. This sampling will continue through 2026, and is the latest action delivering on the EPA PFAS Strategic Roadmap, which dictates that PFAS (an emerging contaminant pending regulations under CERCLA) requires a multi-agency approach and specific actionable steps to assess risks to human and environmental health better, hold polluters accountable, and identify the extent of the problem.
Monitoring PFAS and lithium is currently under the fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5). The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that the EPA issue a list of unregulated but potentially harmful contaminants every five years and devise a protocol for monitoring those contaminants in public water systems (PWSs).
The current UCMR 5 regulatory framework allows for collecting PFAS and lithium data throughout the United States. It aims to create science-based decision-making regarding how to address these chemicals best. Results, which will get quarterly updates, can be reviewed by the public on the EPA’s National Contaminant Occurrence Database.
While there is not currently a final drinking water standard in place for PFAS, EPA has already issued health advisories for four PFAS compounds, and two of them – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – have also been proposed for entry as hazardous substances under CERCLA, as of March 2023. The timeline for the final rule on PFAS CERCLA designation is now February 2024. Landfills and other passive receivers are seeking relief from CERCLA contribution litigation prior to designating PFAS as hazardous substances, as they have no control over the use and disposal of hundreds of thousands of products containing PFOA and PFOS.
This first set of data does appear to raise some red flags, though it is not uniformly indicative of widespread contamination. In Missouri, for example, 1,923 distinct water samples were obtained from 22 different PWSs (from a mix of wells and treatment plants) in communities throughout the state. Of these samples, 23 are scattered between 11 facilities containing lithium at concentrations in excess of the laboratory Method Reporting Limit (MRL) of 9 micrograms per liter (µg/L), some by many orders of magnitude. Only two PFAS compounds (PFOS and PFHxS) are above their MRLs (0.004 µg/L and 0.003 µg/L, respectively), both from the North Rodeo Well of the Camdenton PWS.
This data will ultimately be immensely useful for public sector officials trying to make policy decisions regarding PFAS and lithium management, fine-tuning community engagement/education efforts, and for private sector industries seeking to get a handle on potential liabilities. SCS Engineers and other qualified environmental firms are poised to be essential partners to national leaders in identifying and remedying emerging contaminants such as PFAS. Many technologies proven to work on a large scale are available, with more promising technologies on the horizon.
Find additional regulatory information using the links below:
Impacts on Sectors and Treatments:
About the Author: Rachel McShane, LEP, has over 15 years of experience in environmental due diligence projects (Phase I, II and III Environmental Site Assessments) as well as Brownfields redevelopment, risk-based corrective action, and remediation projects. She is familiar with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessments, vapor investigations and mitigation, radon, asbestos, lead-based paint surveys, and leachate monitoring/solid waste management. Reach Ms. McShane at or via LinkedIn.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that one in three people globally lack access to safe drinking water. In Wisconsin, three non-profits are tackling this life-threatening problem, especially in hard-hit Sierra Leone in western Africa.
Geological Engineer Chris Jimieson of SCS Engineers leads the non-profit organization Strides for Africa. Maria Nicholas-Groves leads Feeding Mouths Filling Minds, and Project1808 founded by Sierra Leone native Dr. Alhaji N’jai work in unison helping to construct the school in Sierra Leone’s Koinadugu District. The school will help the surrounding community learn about resource conservation and help alleviate life-threatening conditions. Of particular importance is sustainable infrastructure such as well construction to produce clean drinking water.
Recently, CBS Sunday Morning, hosted by Michael Schlesinger, highlighted their work to improve access and save lives. See the feature on the CBS site.
Meet Chris – Mr. Jimieson has 20 years of experience as a geological engineer and hydrogeologist on a wide variety of civil and environmental engineering projects. He currently manages industrial and municipal solid waste projects as well as environmental compliance projects. Chris has also consulted on environmental projects at leaking underground storage tank (UST) sites, chlorinated solvent-contaminated sites, industrial facilities, and historic fill sites with industrial, developer, commercial, military, state, municipal, and solid waste clients.