Feds Making Moves on PFAS Research and Regulation

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As the conversation around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and biosolids fertilizer grows increasingly louder in the public sphere, many within the industry are left wondering what the future holds when it comes to federal regulation of the substances. Although there's no answer to those questions yet, the federal government has made a few moves related to PFAS research and regulation.

Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee forwarded a sweeping legislative proposal directing the Environmental Protection Agency to set a drinking water standard for PFAS. So far, the EPA has only issued a voluntary recommendation that water contain no more than 70 ppt of PFAS, but advocates of the new legislation say that’s not enough, as they seek legally binding standards stricter than 70 ppt.

Meanwhile, the EPA is taking steps to advance its PFAS Action Plan and also announced the availability of $4.8 million in funding to expand research on managing PFAS in rural America and the agricultural sector. 

Adding PFAS to Toxics Release Inventory

The EPA is asking the public for input on potentially adding certain PFAS to the list of chemicals that companies are required to report to the agency as part of its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). This action supports the agency’s February 2019 PFAS Action Plan, which describes EPA’s long- and short-term actions to address PFAS.

“I started at the agency as a career employee in the TRI program and exploring the addition of certain PFAS chemicals to the TRI is an important step that can enhance this tool and provide important information to the public on these chemicals for the first time,” says EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

As EPA considers whether to add these chemicals, the agency will use public comments and information received in response to a recent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for two purposes. First, the public input will help the agency determine whether data and information are available to fulfill the TRI chemical listing criteria. Second, EPA will use the input to help evaluate the extent and usefulness of the data that would be gathered under TRI.

All comments and information received in response to this ANPRM will be evaluated along with previously collected and assembled studies. If EPA decides to move forward with adding PFAS chemicals to the TRI, the agency will publish a proposed rule and seek public comment on the proposal.

Funding for PFAS management

The EPA also announced the availability of $4.8 million to research PFAS in rural parts of the nation and the agricultural sector at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau.

This funding is a part of EPA’s efforts to help communities address the larger issue of PFAS nationwide. In a memorandum issued in February, Wheeler called for the agency to prioritize new federal research that will help farmers, ranchers and rural communities by generating new scientifically-driven information on PFAS, potential PFAS impacts in agricultural settings and actions people can take to address PFAS in their communities.

EPA is seeking grant applications that help improve the agency’s understanding of the potential impacts of PFAS on water quality and availability in rural communities and agricultural operations across the United States. Specifically, the agency is seeking research on PFAS occurrence, fate and transport in water sources used by rural communities and agricultural operations and new or improved PFAS treatment methods appropriate for small drinking water and wastewater systems including influents, effluents and biosolids/residuals. Some of the questions EPA hopes to answer include:

  • How do serial biosolids applications impact PFAS concentrations and accumulation over time?
  • What are the impacts of factors such as soil type, crop type and landscape traits, such as topography, that may influence PFAS concentration and accumulation?
  • How do we treat and clean up PFAS from water, soil and biosolids used in agricultural settings?

EPA is accepting applications through Feb. 11, 2020. Additional information on the request for applications is available here.


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