EPA Proposes Regulating ‘Forever Chemicals’
The last sampling in Hillsborough’s water for two of the chemicals found non-detectable levels
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new drinking water regulations for six types of manmade compounds in the per- and polyfluorinated substances classification that can lead to adverse health effects from continued high level exposure above specific levels.
The compounds, or PFAS, are also called “forever chemicals” as they do not break down in the environment. The proposed rule would require public water systems to:
- Monitor for the PFAS chemicals identified.
- Notify the public of the levels.
- Reduce levels in drinking water if they exceed the proposed standards.
The EPA’s proposal, announced March 14, would regulate:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
- Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
- Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)
- Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), commonly known as GenX
- Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)
- Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).
The first two chemicals would be regulated at 4 parts per trillion (ppt), with 1 part equivalent to a grain of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The EPA proposes a hazard index limit of 1 for a mix of the remaining four chemicals based upon a formula calculation. The agency expects to finalize the regulation by the end of 2023. The proposal does not require any actions until finalized. There is currently no federal legal standard regulating the maximum allowable levels of PFAS in drinking water.
Effect in Hillsborough
The Town of Hillsborough plans to monitor its raw water and wastewater effluent for changes in PFAS levels for informational purposes and in accordance with regulatory requirements. The Utilities Department already has requested quotes for sampling of all six chemicals but expects results to take several months once the sampling is conducted due to a laboratory backlog.
“We are thankful to have not experienced any concern with these constituents,” Hillsborough Utilities Director Marie Strandwitz said.
Hillsborough’s last sampling of its drinking water for two of the PFAS chemicals ― PFOA and PFOS ― in 2014 found the substances were non-detectable in the town’s finished water storage and distribution system. See the town’s most recent water quality report below.
“Long-term repeated high-level exposure to these compounds is the concern from a health perspective. We do not foresee this as a situation in Hillsborough for customers on our water system,” Strandwitz said, noting that Hillsborough is located at the headwaters of the Eno River and the town has no significant industrial users who may discharge such compounds upstream or on its system.
The utilities director said the town also will remain cognizant of potential impacts to its water system and the risk of introducing PFAS into the town’s waste stream when considering business expansion inquiries.
“We empathize with our peer utilities who are dealing with a complicated matter that they did not manifest yet must solve,” Strandwitz said.
The EPA is requesting public comment on the proposed regulation. Public comments can be provided at regulations.gov under Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114. Information and tips on submitting comments to EPA dockets can be found on the Commenting on EPA Dockets webpage.
The agency will offer two informational webinars about the proposed rule from 2 to 3 p.m. March 16 and 29, with the first a general overview and the second a technical overview. Registration is required. The webinar recordings and presentation materials will be available on the EPA website following the presentations.
The agency also will offer a public hearing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 4. Members of the public can register to attend and provide verbal comments on the rule proposal. Registration is required, and the last day to register to speak is April 28.
PFAS are found in a wide array of consumer and industrial products. These include aqueous firefighting foams used at airfields and in industrial processes. They also include products resistant to water, grease or stains, such as carpet, clothing, upholstery, paper packaging for food and other materials. They are commonly found in household dust and wastewater. PFAS can enter lakes, rivers, or groundwater through industrial releases, wastewater treatment plant discharges, and the use of aqueous firefighting foam.
For questions related to the webinars and public hearing, contact PFASNPDWR@epa.gov.
For additional information about the proposal, see the EPA page Proposed PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation.