AWWA: EPA ‘should consider withdrawing’ proposed NPDWR for PFOA, PFOS

In public comments submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week, two water sector associations representing the drinking water sector offered strong recommendations to the agency’s proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for PFAS.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) both suggest EPA may have gone too far in the rulemaking released in March, with AWWA citing the proposed maximum contaminant levels and AMWA commenting on cost and compliance.

PFAS molecule

The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water as individual contaminants to 4 parts per trillion (ppt), and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and HFPO-DA (also known as GenX chemicals) – as a mixture.

But AWWA says if EPA intends to finalize the drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS based on the current proposal, standards of 10 ppt, each, are in fact most appropriate. AWWA adds that current monitoring data is insufficient to issue the determinations found in the rulemaking, and says EPA should wait on the availability of national monitoring data currently being collected as part of the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5).

Ultimately, AWWA says, the proposed regulation in the NPDWR are outside the scope of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s authority.

Here are four of AWWA’s key recommendations:

  1. The agency should consider withdrawing and re-proposing drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS given the recurring issues with the underlying analyses. If the agency should finalize drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS based on the current proposal, drinking water standards of 10 ppt, each, are most appropriate.
  2. The agency’s preliminary determinations for PFNA, HFPO-DA, and PFBS and the mixture of PFHxS, PFNA, HFPO-DA, and PFBS are not sufficiently supported by the available data. Moreover the available data currently suggests a negative determination for these PFAS is appropriate. The agency should re-issue these preliminary determinations following the availability of national monitoring data currently being collected, as part of the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5).
  3. The agency misuses the hazard index as a maximum contaminant level given it is not supported by federal guidance for assessing risk from mixtures and other issues.
  4. The agency’s proposed regulation concurrent with preliminary regulatory determinations is not within the scope of authorities granted by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), does not fulfill the obligations under the Administrative Procedures Act, and is inappropriate. Proposed regulation of additional PFAS should not occur until a determination to regulate is issued.

AMWA, which lobbies for large public drinking water systems, also detailed its NPDWR public comments and key recommendations in a press release last week. Among them, it cited high costs and an insufficient timeline for compliance as among its primary concerns. AMWA says EPA’s cost analysis contains many faults, including displaying costs before peak inflation and citing supply chain issues and labor shortages as further impacting the estimates. It’s also calling for a two-year extension for compliance.

The organization added: “AMWA vehemently believes in the principle of ‘polluter pays,’ where those responsible for PFAS pollution should bear the responsibility for prevention and remediation. The [EPA] must do more to hold chemical producers and manufacturers financially accountable for their actions…”

AMWA suggested EPA could prioritize water systems with the highest concentrations of PFAS in order to mitigate the disparities, explaining that fewer systems impacted by the rule at one time would alleviate supply chain demands and decrease competition for labor and materials. By doing so, the organization says, these systems would have quicker access to project resources, supplies, labor and funding.

“Public water systems already face a multitude of pressing priorities, including the challenges of aging infrastructure, compliance with multiple regulations, the impacts of climate change, and the current adversities stemming from inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions,” said AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins. “The proposed three-year timeline for implementing PFAS treatment technologies is insufficient for projects of this magnitude. Without the certainty of additional time, many water systems will struggle to meet the compliance deadline. AMWA is asking EPA to provide a two-year extension and further flexibility for water systems that may need more time to complete such costly and intricate projects.”

Both AMWA and AWWA say they remain committed to working collaboratively with EPA and other stakeholders to deliver safe and affordable drinking water to the American public.

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