Washington, D.C. — Last month Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a series of steps the agency would take to respond to growing concern over the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water supplies across the country. One of the steps Pruitt cited would be an effort to explore the possibility of setting legally enforceable limits — or maximum contaminant levels — under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS exposure. That effort is critical as a regulatory standard for the chemicals is needed for the Pentagon to implement appropriate cleanup actions, Deborah Morefield, program manager of DOD’s defense environmental restoration program, said Tuesday during a town hall at the Defense Communities National Summit.
“We’re waiting for EPA,” Morefield said. In 2016, EPA set lifetime health advisories for PFOA and PFOS but those are not regulatory standards and are not enforceable.
At this time, though, it’s not clear how long it will take the agency to set exposure limits for PFOA and PFOS, assuming the process reaches that point. There is no established timeline under the Safe Drinking Water Act for completing the regulatory determination process, Jennifer McLain, acting deputy director of EPA’s office of ground water and drinking water, told the audience. The agency has only started the preliminary phase of the process and officials still are discussing a possible timeframe. “We understand the need to move along,” McLain said.
Separately EPA will begin the necessary steps to consider designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under one of two sections of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). That move, expected to occur this fall, will help base closure communities still waiting to obtain land from the military services.
And starting next week, EPA will be visiting a handful of communities grappling with PFAS contamination to hear directly from local officials and residents about how they’ve been impacted. By the end of the year, the agency plans to release a national PFAS management plan that will outline how the agency will lead the effort to address the problem, she said.
In response to a question from the audience, McLain said she believes a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which top EPA and White House officials blocked earlier this year, will be released in the near future. EPA has been working with ATSDR, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, to review the report, she said. The toxicological study could lead to the government adopting a lower threshold for exposure to PFOA and PFOS.
Air Force photo by Breanne Humphreys