2024 Regulatory Outlook: PFAS, Lead and Copper Rule Improvements

By Brian Redder & Erica Brown

As 2024 commences, EPA is hard at work preparing to finalize two major rulemakings under the Safe Drinking Water Act by the end of the year: the PFAS national primary drinking water regulations and the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI). While the PFAS regulations are currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, the LCRI public comment period on the proposed rule was slated to close on Feb. 5. If both rules are finalized this year with three-year compliance dates, as proposed, drinking water systems would be expected to comply with both rulemakings by the close of 2027. At this point, EPA’s estimated compliance cost of these two rules combined is approximately $2.87 to $4.8 billion annually.

PFAS

The final drinking water rule that would regulate PFOA, PFOS, and any mixture containing PFHxS, HFPO-DA and its ammonium salt (GenX), PFNA, and/or PFBS was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Dec. 15, 2023. These reviews typically take around 90 days; however, the proposed PFAS rule was at OMB for approximately six months. Even if OMB’s review takes over 90 days, the final rule is still expected to be published in the Federal Register this year, likely in spring. The statutory deadline for the rule to be finalized is September 2024.

The proposed rule included maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) each for PFOA and PFOS and a Hazard index of 1 for mixtures of the remaining four PFAS. Many in the water sector expressed concerns with the three-year timeline to comply with this rule, arguing capital projects like what will be necessary to treat these PFAS chemicals adequately can exceed five years. The immense costs associated with compliance were also a concern of several commenters, specifically: EPA was underestimating costs; the lack of sufficient federal funds to cover the price tag; and the inability to use certain federal funds for operation and maintenance costs. It is unclear what changes, if any, EPA will include in the final rule, but the agency continues to highlight PFAS as one of its top priorities.

In 2024, EPA will also continue to release quarterly batches of unregulated contaminant monitoring rule (UCMR) 5 data that includes 29 PFAS and lithium. So far, data from these releases have shown 9-11 percent of public water systems (PWSs) sampled had detections of PFOA and PFOS above the lifetime reference level (the interim health advisories of 0.00002 and 0.00004 ug/L for PFOS and PFOA, respectively), only 1 PWS exceeding reference level (0.01 ug/L) concentrations for GenX, and no PWS had results above the reference level for PFBS.

Lead and Copper Rule Improvements

On Dec. 6, 2023, EPA published the Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) in the Federal Register to revise the 2021 Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR). Key elements of the proposal include:

  • Achieving 100 percent lead service line (LSL) replacement within 10 years.
  • Identifying unknown LSLs and completing inventories within that 10 years.
  • Updating the lead tap sampling procedure.
  • Lowering the lead action level from 15 ppb to 10 ppb.
  • Adding several new public notification and education requirements.

With this proposal, water systems will continue to comply with the current LCR until the compliance date of the LCRI arrives, with the exception of three main provisions of the LCRR. The initial inventory requirements in the LCRR, due by Oct. 16, 2024, would not change. These inventories include a record of every service line in the distribution system and whether it is composed of lead, non-lead, unknown, or a galvanized requiring replacement line. A galvanized requiring replacement line is a galvanized line that is or was ever downstream of a lead service line or service line of unknown composition. Once water systems submit these inventories, they will have 30 days to notify customers of the composition of their service line. The last change this October will be the 24-hour (tier 1) notification of a lead action level exceedance.

The water sector has repeatedly highlighted numerous barriers to lead service line identification and replacement that drinking water systems are currently experiencing – including, but not limited to, increasing costs, supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages, incomplete or missing building records, and lack of access to the private side of the service line. Funding is at the forefront of these concerns. Not only is there not enough federal funding now to cover the enormous costs of this rulemaking, estimated at $2.1 to 3.6 billion annually, but many water systems cannot use ratepayer or taxpayer funds to replace the private side of the service line. Even further, for some agencies, there is little political will among those who can authorize additional funding or rate increases (such as elected officials) to pay for the private side of lead service line replacements.

The public comment period for this rulemaking was to close on Feb. 5. EPA has adamantly stated that it intends to finalize the LCRI by the October compliance date of the LCRR. It is unclear, as of now, what will happen if this goal is unmet.


Brian Redder

Brian Redder is director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. He manages a portfolio of regulatory and scientific issues relevant to large, publicly owned drinking water utilities. Redder previously worked in the U.S. Senate on water and environmental policy.

Erica Brown

Erica Brown is chief policy and strategy officer for the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. She provides the strategic vision, innovation, and direction for AMWA’s federal policy and utility management programs and related educational content.

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