Last fall’s elections resulted in significant changes in leadership at the federal and state level. What has not changed is the lack of clarity with respect to regulatory guidelines for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). See our PFAS Resources Page for additional information and resources with respect to PFAS.
The recent PFAS developments are, unfortunately, more political than scientific at this point.
Representative Antonio Delgado, a freshman congressman from New York, made waves when he wrote, “Many of my constituents have lost loved ones or suffer themselves from the adverse effects of PFAS water contamination.”
Despite Representative Delgado’s claims, the unfortunate reality is that we lack sufficient toxicological data to draw such conclusions.
Lack of Toxicological Data
Dr. Jenifer Heath, a toxicologist, recently wrote, “The most immediate problem is that there is no agreed upon standard for what constitutes a “safe” dose of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). Federal- and state-level regulations are in a state of flux, with agencies developing ‘risk-based’ criteria that vary by two orders of magnitude (i.e., a factor of 100).”
Dr. Heath went on to write, “The lack of a coherent plan in regard to PFOA has resulted in costly environmental investigations and pending cleanups of PFOA in groundwater and drinking water. All this garners media coverage, which just adds fuel to the fire.”
Federal PFAS Developments
Adding some fuel to the fire was a Politico report that the Trump Administration is not going to move forward in developing Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS chemicals.
This was followed by a statement by the US EPA Office of Water Assistance Administrator, David Ross, who said, “Despite what is being reported, EPA has not finalized or publicly issued its PFAS management plan, and any information that speculates what is included in the plan is premature. The agency is committed to following the Safe Drinking Water Act process for evaluating new drinking water standards, which is just one of the many components of the draft plan that is currently undergoing interagency review.”
The uncertainty at the federal level is only complicated as we continue to operate with an acting administrator (Andrew Wheeler). Hopefully, confirmation hearings will bring more certainty to the EPA and development of PFAS MCLs.
It’s worth mentioning that on January 14, 2019, there was a (federal) bipartisan bill proposed (H.R. 535 – PFAS Action Act of 2019). This bill would require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.
PFAS Developments in Michigan
Compared to other states, Michigan has been proactive in evaluating PFAS chemicals. Under the previous administration, Governor Rick Snyder, in November 2017, established the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART). MPART is supported by a group of technical advisors (the Michigan PFAS Science Advisory Panel).
The conclusions of the Science Advisory Panel are published in a 90-page document, “Scientific Evidence and Recommendations for Managing PFAS Contamination in Michigan (December 2018).” Some of these conclusions include:
“Many stakeholders, including those in Michigan, recognize that PFAS contamination is comprised of more than just the two most well-known PFAS, PFOS and PFOA. Analytical methods are being developed to capture PFCAs, PFSAs, and sulfonamide acetic acids from Method 537 but will also include newer PFAS (e.g., GenX) as high-quality analytical standards become available for PFAS.”
“Forensic approaches for PFAS are under development but it is likely to be years before the techniques are fully validated. As fingerprinting capabilities become available, indicator PFAS are likely to be identified and pushed into analytical methods in the commercial market.”
Governor Whitmer Issued PFAS Executive Order
First-term Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, issued an executive order (2019-03) that will apparently continue with the work established by Governor Snyder. “This executive order establishes MPART as an established, enduring body to address the threat of PFAS contamination in Michigan, protect public health, and ensure the safety of Michigan’s land, air, and water, while facilitating inter-agency coordination, increasing transparency, and requiring clear standards to ensure accountability.”
It is not clear at this point whether the Michigan PFAS Science Advisory Panel will continue to support MPART. NOTE: for more information on changes at the state level, see our Environmental Regulatory Alert.
As new state and federal lawmakers “get their footing” and get their support staff in place, perhaps we’ll gain some additional scientific and regulatory clarity with respect to PFAS. Certainly, the EPA’s development of MCLs for PFAS would go a long way in providing a scientific foundation for assessment and remediation of PFAS.
As we have mentioned previously, Dragun is experienced in a variety of PFAS issues, from developing best management practices for PFAS-containing materials to assessment and remediation of PFAS chemicals in groundwater. If you have questions or need assistance with a PFAS-related issue, please contact our senior environmental engineer, Matthew Schroeder, P.E. at 248-932-0228, Ext. 117.