EPA announces new health advisories for PFAS chemicals like GenX, $1 billion in funding to address contaminants

WASHINGTON (WWAY) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released four drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and announced $1 billion in grant funding to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water.

Assistant Administrator Fox announced these actions at the 3rd National PFAS Conference in Wilmington.

The PFAS health advisories indicate the level of drinking water contamination below which adverse health effects are not expected to occur. EPA is issuing interim, updated drinking water health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that replace those EPA issued in 2016.

The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time.

The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health. EPA recommends states, Tribes, territories, and drinking water utilities that detect PFOA and PFOS take steps to reduce exposure.

Most uses of PFOA and PFOS were voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers, although there are a limited number of ongoing uses, and these chemicals remain in the environment due to their lack of degradation.

For the first time, EPA is issuing final health advisories for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid and its potassium salt (PFBS) and for hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and its ammonium salt (“GenX” chemicals). In chemical and product manufacturing, GenX chemicals are considered a replacement for PFOA, and PFBS is considered a replacement for PFOS. The GenX chemicals and PFBS health advisory levels are well above the level of detection, based on risk analyses in recent scientific studies.

Following the announcement, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services said they are moving quickly to evaluate the state’s drinking water supplies based on these health advisories and determine appropriate next steps to assess and reduce exposure risks.

In step with the DEQ Action Strategy for PFAS, DEQ will prioritize actions to protect communities based upon the number of people impacted, concentration of PFAS in the drinking water, and the impacts to vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

Since 2017, North Carolina has taken decisive action to address GenX contamination originating from the Chemours Fayetteville Works Facility. For GenX, the EPA set a final lifetime health advisory level of 10 parts per trillion (ppt), which would replace the state’s provisional drinking water health goal of 140 ppt developed by NCDHHS in 2018. The Consent Order requires Chemours to provide whole house filtration for private drinking water wells with GenX concentrations above a health advisory.

The federal health advisory will now replace the state provisional drinking water health goal and DEQ estimates more than 1700 additional private well users will now be eligible for whole house filtration or connection to a public water supply. DEQ is directing Chemours to proceed with the implementation of the health advisory and additional information will be provided to residents about their options and next steps as soon as possible.

While GenX contamination is specific to the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, PFOS and PFOA were commonly used nationwide for decades in a variety of consumer goods and industrial processes. PFOA and PFOS, often called ‘legacy compounds’ have been largely phased out of current use and replaced by GenX and PFBS.

EPA issued interim updated health advisories of 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS, with a minimum reporting level of 4 ppt. These interim advisories replace the 2016 provisional health advisory of 70 ppt for both compounds. According to EPA, there is an increased risk of adverse health effects, including effects on the immune system, the cardiovascular system, human development (e.g., decreased birth weight), and cancer, when drinking water with compounds above the health advisory over a lifetime.

EPA recommends water systems that measure any levels of PFOA or PFOS take steps to inform customers, undertake additional sampling to assess the level, scope and source of contamination, and examine steps to limit exposure. At this time, EPA is not recommending bottled water or providing alternative water sources, based solely on concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water that exceed the health advisory levels.

Data on the PFOA and PFOS levels in North Carolina’s private drinking water wells and public water systems are limited. However, available sampling indicates the presence of one or both compounds in multiple public water systems across the state. DEQ and DHHS are evaluating the available data in light of these new health advisories to identify potentially affected communities and take action to address impacts to North Carolina residents. DHHS will ensure guidance on health impacts related to these forever chemicals is available to the public and remains up-to-date.

Most exposures occur by consuming food or water containing PFAS. The EPA health advisories account for margin of safety for other potential exposure sources, such as through skin, breathing, dietary exposure, consumer products, etc.

For PFBS, EPA set a health advisory at 2,000 ppt. PFBS has not been found in significant concentrations in sampling to date in North Carolina. DEQ and DHHS will plan additional outreach for affected residents in the weeks ahead. Specific health information related to PFAS from DHHS, including fact sheets, can be found online here. Additional DEQ information about PFAS, including the DEQ Action Strategy for PFAS, is available here.

Chemours, the company responsible for the GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River, responded to the EPA’s announcement:

At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While the EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory on HFPO-Dimer Acid (“HFPO-DA”), that is not the case. Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed. The agency disregarded relevant data and issued a health advisory contrary to the agency’s own standards and this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity. Chemours uses HFPO-DA and its ammonium salt as a polymerization aid to manufacture high-performance fluoropolymers; it is not a commercial product. We are already using state-of-the-art technologies at our sites to abate emissions and remediate historical releases. We are evaluating our next steps, including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action.

The agency’s new health advisories provide technical information that federal, state, and local agencies can use to inform actions to address PFAS in drinking water, including water quality monitoring, optimization of existing technologies that reduce PFAS, and strategies to reduce exposure to these substances.

Individuals concerned about levels of PFAS found in their drinking water should consider actions that may reduce exposure, including installing a home or point of use filter.

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

“Today’s actions highlight EPA’s commitment to use the best available science to tackle PFAS pollution, protect public health, and provide critical information quickly and transparently,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “EPA is also demonstrating its commitment to harmonize policies that strengthen public health protections with infrastructure funding to help communities—especially disadvantaged communities—deliver safe water.”

As part of a government-wide effort to confront PFAS pollution, EPA is making available $1 billion in grant funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities that are on the frontlines of PFAS contamination, the first of $5 billion through the Law that can be used to reduce PFAS in drinking water in communities facing disproportionate impacts.

These funds can be used in small or disadvantaged communities to address emerging contaminants like PFAS in drinking water through actions such as technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training, and installation of centralized treatment technologies and systems.

Congressman David Rouzer shared a statement in response to the announcement as well.

“Our communities rightfully have questions about PFAS chemicals, including GenX, and how they affect our drinking water, health, and the environment.  The scientific community has been working hard to answer these questions, and I’m glad to see the EPA move forward with new PFAS drinking water health advisories so we can achieve progress on cleaning up the contamination entering our source waters.  I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress along with state and local officials to ensure families in Southeastern North Carolina have access to safe drinking water.”

EPA is moving forward with proposing a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation in fall 2022. As EPA develops this proposed rule, the agency is also evaluating additional PFAS beyond PFOA and PFOS and considering actions to address groups of PFAS.

To receive grant funding announced today through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states and territories should submit a letter of intent by August 15, 2022.

 

Categories: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Local, NC, NC, NC-Carolinas, New Hanover, News, Pender, Top Stories