The unprecedented rate of developments concerning PFAS issues

The Remediation Journal dedicated the Spring 2018 issue to perand polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) issues affecting the remediation industry. The Spring 2018 issue consisted of eight articles spanning many subjects, including article topics covering sampling protocol and cross-contamination issues, fate and transport, perfluorinated substance precursors, and various remediation technologies. Although Wiley only published the issue one year ago, the amount of activity within the regulatory and technical communities related to PFASs is substantial.

This activity exemplifies the unprecedented attention PFAS contamination issues are receiving due to drinking water ingestion and other exposures at sites across the United States, including numerous U.S. Department of Defense installations. PFAS-related developments are widespread, not only in the United States, but also in the European Union and other countries, notably Australia. Rarely a day goes by without our newsfeeds providing press releases on PFAS developments, whether on the regulatory, legislative, technical, or legal fronts (the myriad/flood of PFAS lawsuits transcends
the scope of this Editor’s Perspective).

Pertinent PFAS developments

Within the past year (since March 2018) the following regulatory, legislative, and technical developments related to PFASs have occurred: 2018 and 2019 Remediation Conferences: Remediation conference organizers are dedicating entire sessions to PFAS cleanup technologies and related issues, and these sessions are generally the most heavily attended. For example, at Battelle’s Palm Springs, California Conference on the Remediation of Chlorinated and Recalcitrant Compounds in April 2018, there were 31 platform presentations, 56 posters, and two panels on PFAS-related subjects.

In essence, there was a PFAS presentation for nearly two solid days of the three and a half-day conference, plus more PFAS information in the form of posters and panels. The AEHS Amherst, Massachusetts conference in October 2018 and the February 2019 RemTEC Summit in Denver, Colorado, provided similar PFAS-focused programs. March, October, and November 2018: The Interstate Technology & Regulatory Council (ITRC) published four fact sheets in March 2018 related to PFAS:

Naming Conventions and Physical and Chemical Properties; Environmental Fate and Transport; Site Characterization Considerations, Sampling Precautions, and Laboratory Analytical Methods; and Remediation Technologies and Methods, and a fifth, Aqueous Film Forming Foams, in October 2018. In addition, ITRC published updated tables for its Regulations, Guidance, and Advisories Fact Sheet in November 2018. ITRC previously issued a fact sheet titled PFAS History and Use in November 2017. April 2018: T

he New York State Department of Environmental Conservation required groundwater samples at remediation sites, including state Superfund sites, Brownfield Cleanup Program sites, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action sites, across the state even if the sites did not have a known connection to PFAS usage. This broad sampling requirement is the most extensive of any state remediation program to date. May 22 to 23, 2018:

Overview of PFAS regulatory standards and guidance values

Like other facets of PFAS-contamination issues, there is a rush to provide guidance and regulations for PFASs throughout the United States and abroad. To assist practitioners stay abreast of PFAS regulatory developments, ITRC’s PFAS Team initiated a program to track these developments. The tables indicate whether the values are guidance or promulgated rules as well as other information about the sources of the values.

The tables, current as of November 15, 2018, include water values established by USEPA and 19 states; human health soil screening levels for USEPA and 20 states; and, groundwater protection soil screening levels for USEPA and five states. In addition, the tables provide water values for nine countries and soil screening levels for four countries.

Water-based PFAS guidance and regulations

In general, most states with some type of guidance have adopted USEPA’s Health Advisory Levels for PFOA and PFOS of 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) combined, although several states have simply divided the 70 ng/L combined standard by two, resulting in values of 35 ng/L for each chemical. However, a few states have more stringent values. For example, New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute recommended maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFOA and PFOS of 13 ng/L and 14 ng/L, and associated rulemaking has been initiated.

Vermont has a stringent guidance value with a combined health advisory level of 20 ng/L for five PFASs combined. Also, in December 2018, the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council recommended that the state Department of Health adopt MCLs for PFOA and PFOS of 10 ng/L, which would be the lowest in the country. There is a general trend that the states with more recently adopted water values tend to have lower, more stringent values, particularly when compared to states that established values before the USEPA released the PFOA and PFOS Health Advisory Levels in November 2016.

Therefore, expect low PFAS values, at least as stringent as USEPA’s Health Advisory Levels, to be issued as additional states develop guidance and regulations in the future. The PFAS drinking and groundwater standards for other countries tend to be less stringent than those in the United States; generally, in the range of 100 to 500 ng/L. However, one diversion from this trend is that the European Union established a very stringent environmental quality standard (EQS) for PFOS and its derivatives in fresh surface water based on risk to human health from fish consumption of 0.65 ng/L.

This EQS is less than levels often measured in background samples and the detection limit usually achieved in commercial laboratories. EU-wide compliance with the EQS is not required until December 2027; however, member states were required to submit a supplementary monitoring program and a preliminary program of measures to achieve compliance to the EU Commission in December 2018. Norway has already adopted the EQS for fresh surface waters of 0.65 ng/L.

PFAS soil screening levels

The soil screening levels in the United States and abroad differ substantially depending on whether the levels are calculated on human health from direct exposure to soils and or protection of groundwater, with those for protection of groundwater several orders of magnitude lower than those based on human health. For example, the USEPA’s soil screening levels based on protection of human health for both PFOA and PFOS are 1,260 micrograms per kilogram (๐œ‡g/kg); whereas, the soil screening levels for protection of groundwater are 0.172 ๐œ‡g/kg and 0.378 ๐œ‡g/kg, respectively.

The statesโ€™ soil screening levels generally follow the same trend with higher standards for human health and lower standards for protection of groundwater. Countries other than the United States have a wide range of soil screening values, but not necessarily separated for human health exposure to soils and groundwater protection. For example, the soil screening levels for PFOS range from 40,000 ๐œ‡g/kg in Western Australia down to 2.3 ๐œ‡g/kg in Norway.

What’s next?

The above discussion illustrates that the remediation industry is experiencing an unprecedented rate of developments related to PFAS contamination issues. Following the proverbial phrase โ€œthe best prediction of the future is the past,โ€ the remediation industry should anticipate the following types of developments concerning PFASs over the next several years based on what the industry has recently experienced: PFAS legislation from U.S. Congress similar to the bill adding PFASs to the CERCLA list of hazardous substances.

If passed, this bill, or one with a similar outcome, could result in PFAS-related removal actions and more PFAS-driven Superfund sites. Also, it would not be surprising to see other legislation requiring USEPA to regulate PFASs at RCRA corrective action sites. Furthermore, the pace at which PFASs will be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a hotly debated, controversial subject.

More states will be establishing PFAS guidance and standards for groundwater, drinking water, and soil. The trend in the United States is that future state drinking water and groundwater quality guidance and standards will continue to be at least as stringent as the USEPA’s Health Advisory Levels for PFOA and PFAS, with many states taking a more conservative approach. Regulatory developments for other PFASs besides PFOA and PFAS.

For example, New Jersey adopted a drinking water MCL for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) of 13 ng/L in September 2018; the only state with an MCL for this specific PFAS. Public water systems throughout New Jersey are mandated to begin testing for PFNA in the first quarter of 2019 and then respond accordingly to address detections of PFNA above the MCL. Expect other states to follow suit with expanded lists of PFASs.


Author: J. A. Simon