Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of industries around the globe. Unfortunately, scientists have found that PFAS pose a variety of risks to human health. For that reason, on February 14, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its PFAS Action Plan, which includes priority action items for businesses that produce PFAS. At Environmental Works, we can help with PFAS evaluation, remediation, and management to ensure your business stays clean, healthy, and profitable.
The EPA’s Pending Regulations on PFAS
WHAT ARE PFAS?
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals numbering in the thousands, with PFOA, PFOS, and GenX among the most widely used and studied. In the United States, both industry and the Department of Defense have used PFAS since the 1940s. The unique properties of PFAS have made them an integral part of a wide variety of industries around the globe, with uses including firefighting foams, building construction, electronics applications, stain/water-resistant coatings (e.g., stain-resistant fabrics, water-repellant clothing), and food packaging. Unfortunately, the use of these chemicals has led to their prevalence in the environment, in household products, and in the human body. PFAS are slow to degrade in the natural environment, which, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), can negatively affect human health in several ways, from fetal and child development to adult fertility and cholesterol levels.
HOW CAN HUMANS COME INTO CONTACT WITH PFAS?
PFAS are made of incredibly robust compounds. Some of these compounds are slow to degrade in the natural environment, which makes managing PFAS contamination an ongoing risk. Humans can come into contact with PFAS in a variety of ways:
- Drinking water that has been contaminated by PFAS production facilities or firefighting foams (i.e., during training exercises or actual use at military bases, airports, refineries, and chemical manufacturing facilities)
- Food products, particularly those that are packaged with PFAS-containing materials or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water
- Commercial household products, including cleaning products and nonstick products like Teflon, waxes, and paints
- Workplaces or factories that produce PFAS
In addition, and perhaps most notably, PFAS are present in living organisms including humans, animals, and fish. One specific concern for humans is the consumption of plants and meats, including fish, that can bioaccumulate PFAS.
WHAT DO THE EPA’S NEW REGULATIONS INCLUDE?
The EPA’s pending regulations on PFAS include a variety of compliance criteria:
- Drinking Water: The EPA has established new maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), two common PFAS.
- Cleanup: The EPA has issued new groundwater cleanup recommendations.
- Monitoring: The EPA will list certain PFAS chemicals in the Toxics Release Inventory, which impacts industry monitoring standards.
HOW CAN MY BUSINESS MANAGE POTENTIAL PFAS?
Since new EPA legislation typically takes several years to come into effect, seven states have proactively developed their own policies. Those states are Alaska, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. As a business owner, it is your responsibility to know your state’s regulations to ensure and maintain compliance – and that’s where we can help.
The EPA’s pending regulations on PFAS will affect businesses of all sizes, but thankfully numerous remediation strategies and management alternatives are available. PFAS are robust and one of the more challenging classes of compounds to address, so working with a team of environmental professionals with experience in compliance, investigation, and remediation team, such as EWI, is advised.
PFAS are typically addressed via a groundwater remediation plan, which may involve treating contamination with a series of activated carbon or ion exchange filters. First, our environmental assessment team will assess the level of environmental impact from historical or current PFAS use. Next, we will establish and implement a comprehensive PFAS compliance, management, and remediation plan that matches your company’s needs. After initial plan implementation, EWI stands ready to work with your business to implement a monitoring strategy to ensure continued compliance and proper management of this unique and challenging issue.