Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The ubiquity and dangers of PFAS are gaining national attention. Several bills and regulations have been proposed at the federal level. Some of these bills have already passed and more legislative successes are hoped to follow.
One prominent federal bill – the PFAS Action Act of 2019 (H.R. 535) – proposes designating all PFAS compounds as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. If PFAS are covered under Superfund, contaminated Superfund sites recognized by the EPA will be eligible for federal funding for remediation efforts.
Under H.R. 535, the two most prominent PFAS–perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)–will be evaluated for hazardous substance designation within one year of the bill passing, and decisions for other PFAS compounds will be determined within five years. The bill passed in the House of Representatives in January 2020, but it has not come to a vote in the Senate yet. If H.R. 535 passes, it will also require the EPA to conduct toxicity testing and limit wastewater discharge concentrations (effluent limitations) under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The federal government has made strides in establishing guidelines for the regulation of PFAS in recent years. The FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), or H.R. 6395, incorporated some components of the PFAS Action Act of 2019 as guidelines for the Department of Defense (DOD). The NDAA requires the DOD to phase out the use of aqueous film-forming foam, a common fire suppressant, by 2024. This timeline was upheld in the 2021 NDAA as well. They are responsible for funding and conducting PFAS monitoring and remediation efforts in contaminated communities. These actions are being taken through the DOD’s PFAS Task Force.
The NDAA also led to the addition of six PFAS compounds under the Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3), which mandates data collection for substances without Maximum Contaminant Levels. In March 2021, the EPA proposed the UCMR5 as an update to UCMR3, making plans to monitor 29 different PFAS compounds.
As of March 2021, no PFAS regulations exist under CERCLA, the Clean Water Act, or the Clean Air Act. However, the new Director of the EPA, Michael Regan, is eager to address PFAS on the federal level. Drafts of new federal drinking water regulations were added to the Federal Register this year, which will be enforced under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) after being finalized. The EPA also plans to add PFOA and PFOS to the SDWA’s Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) and is considering CERCLA designation for several PFAS compounds as well. Further regulations will hopefully tighten restrictions on PFAS beyond drinking water regulations and provide a cleaner and safer environment for all organisms.
Emerging contaminants require all-hands efforts to monitor, remediate and regulate. This article, along with parts one and two, are intended to briefly overview PFAS and illustrate actions at both the state and federal levels.