In keeping with its promise to aggressively pursue regulation of PFAS, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday, June 15th, announced new advisory limits for four kinds of PFAS, warning that the compounds are far more toxic than previously thought. In fact, EPA estimates that PFAS are contaminating the drinking water of more than 200 million people, and the new limits could have significant financial consequences.
Since 2016, the EPA has worked off a health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOS and PFOA, two compounds commonly produced and used for decades. The new limits are 0.02 ppt for PFOS and 0.004 ppt for PFOA.
The revised health guidelines are based on new scientific studies conducted by EPA and, according to EPA, consider a lifetime exposure to the chemicals. Officials are no longer confident that PFAS levels allowed under the 2016 guidelines "do not have adverse health impacts," an EPA spokesman said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, EPA officials recognize that while the new guidelines set acceptable risk below levels that can currently be measured, EPA recommends that utilities take action against the chemicals when they reach levels that can be measured, currently about four parts per trillion.
The EPA said it still expects to propose national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with a final rule expected in 2023, in accordance with the plans laid out in last year's PFOAS Roadmap.
At the same time, the EPA announced that, for the first time, it is issuing final health advisories for two chemicals that are considered replacements for PFOA and PFOS. One group is known as GenX chemicals, while the other is known as PFBS. Health advisories for GenX chemicals were set at ten parts per trillion, while PFBS was set at 2,000 parts per trillion.
Undoubtedly, these new advisory limits will be challenged by industry and utilities. But for now, it can be expected that the plaintiff's bar will use these incredibly low advisory limits to file suit whenever PFOA or PFOS rise above detectable limits to claim contamination to property or exposure.