U.S. EPA Announces PFAS Action Plan

The agency's plan outlines the steps it is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently announced the agency’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan.

The plan responds to extensive public interest and input the agency has received over the past year and represents the first time EPA has built a multimedia, multiprogram, national communication and research plan to address an emerging environmental challenge like PFAS. EPA’s Action Plan identifies both short-term solutions for addressing these chemicals and long-term strategies that aim to provide tools and technologies states, tribes and local communities need to provide clean and safe drinking water to their residents and to address PFAS at the source.

“The PFAS Action Plan is the most comprehensive cross-agency plan to address an emerging chemical of concern ever undertaken by EPA,” says EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “For the first time in Agency history, we utilized all of our program offices to construct an all-encompassing plan to help states and local communities address PFAS and protect our nation’s drinking water. We are moving forward with several important actions, including the maximum contaminant level process, that will help affected communities better monitor, detect, and address PFAS.”

The Water Quality Association voiced its support for the action plan. “We are encouraged that the EPA is continuing to move forward with establishing a consistent standard across the country for these dangerous chemicals,” says WQA Global Government Affairs Director David Loveday. “We strongly support the action plan’s  recommendations that consumers have their drinking water checked by a certified laboratory and then use certified in-home filtration to remove or reduce any chemicals found.”

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) also supports the plan, according to a statement released by NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith. “This issue is important to our members, and we have been following it closely. NWRA looks forward to being a part of the process as we work with the agency to develop appropriate policies that are based on science.”

While EPA officials and some organizations have shown enthusiasm about the action plan, others have been critical of the announcement. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan says in a statement, for instance, that the plan falls short of the commitments promised by EPA leadership a year ago. “We know PFAS contamination can have devastating health impacts — and Michigan families across the state that have been exposed for too long rightly deserve answers, but more importantly they deserve action. This report makes it even clearer to me that this administration will continue to delay action for as long as possible. EPA has yet to publish important groundwater cleanup standards that have been in White House interagency review for six months, so I have little confidence in the agency’s ability to initiate enforceable cleanup and drinking water regulations.”

U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania also criticize the plan in a joint statement as co-chairs of the Congressional PFAS Task Force. “PFAS chemical contamination is a public health crisis and the EPA must act with an urgency that matches the scale of the problem. While today’s announcement is a start, further aggressive and impactful actions must be taken by the administration to protect Americans’ communities.” 

Plan details

The action plan published by the EPA describes the following long- and short-term actions the agency is taking:

Drinking water: EPA is moving forward with the maximum contaminant level (MCL) process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS — two of the most well-known and prevalent PFAS chemicals. By the end of this year, EPA will propose a regulatory determination, which is the next step in the Safe Drinking Water Act process for establishing an MCL.

Clean up: EPA has begun the regulatory development process for listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances and will issue interim groundwater cleanup recommendations for sites contaminated with PFOA and PFOS. The work will provide additional tools to help states and communities address existing contamination and enhance the ability to hold responsible parties accountable.

Enforcement: EPA will use available enforcement tools to address PFAS exposure in the environment and assist states in enforcement activities.

Monitoring: EPA will propose to include PFAS in nationwide drinking water monitoring under the next Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Program. The agency will also consider PFAS chemicals for listing in the Toxics Release Inventory to help the agency identify where these chemicals are being released.

Research: EPA will develop new analytical methods so that more PFAS chemicals can be detected in drinking water, in soil and in groundwater. These efforts aim to improve the agency’s ability to monitor and assess potential risks. EPA’s research efforts also include developing new technologies and treatment options to remove PFAS from drinking water at contaminated sites. 

Risk Communications: EPA will work across the agency and the federal government to develop a PFAS risk communication toolbox that includes materials that states, tribes and local partners can use to effectively communicate with the public.


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