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.
On March 23, 2023, EPA hosted a live webinar entitled “Listening Session: CERCLA PFAS Enforcement.” EPA is currently preparing a CERCLA PFAS Enforcement Discretion Policy, and they presented an overview of their current thoughts on the topic. Following EPA’s 15-minute presentation, live comments from registered speakers (e.g., Anne Germain with National Waste and Recycling Association, Robin Wright with Delaware Solid Waste Authority) were provided.
SCS’s National Expert on Emerging Contaminants and on Innovative Technologies Jeff Marshall, provides these highlights from EPA’s presentation, delivered by Ken Patterson (EPA Office of Site Remediation Enforcement):
The policy discretion document is still being developed by EPA. The recording of the March 14 and 23, 2023, listening sessions will be posted soon on EPA’s CERCLA PFAS Enforcement Listening Sessions web page.
Follow SCS on your preferred social media site for updates. Please share this update with others whose operations will be impacted.
Solutions: Liquids Management and Sequestration
Deep Well Disposal for PFAS Attracts Heightened Interest as New Regulations Loom One thing that landfills, airports, wastewater treatment facilities, chemical companies, and other entities needing to manage liquid PFAS waste will not have to worry about is competing for deep well …
$2 Billion in EPA Grant Funding to Address PFAS in Drinking Water On February 13, 2023, the EPA announced the availability of $2 billion of grant funding to address emerging contaminants, like Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in drinking water across the …
USEPA Effluent Guidelines Program Plan, Including PFAS Limits & Nutrient Study USEPA recently issued Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15, which includes a focus on PFAS discharges from multiple categories. In conjunction with Plan 15, EPA has determined that revisions to the …
Biosolids and PFAS – What’s in my Fertilizer? Many original PFAS compounds were phased out of production in the early 2000s, but they were replaced with other compounds still being evaluated for safety. Tony Kollasch looks at the …
PFAS Discharges: EPA Issues NPDES Guidance to States While the Office of Water works to revise Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) and develop water quality criteria to support technology-based and water quality-based effluent limits for PFAS in NPDES permits, this memorandum describes steps permit writers can implement under existing authorities to reduce the discharge of PFAS…