Water sector identifies gaps in PFAS research

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in August issued a request for information from interested parties to identify data what it called gaps in research and development regarding several aspects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The office said the comments received through this request will be used to inform a strategic plan for federal coordination of PFAS research and development.

The types of research needs requested must meet one or more of the following goals:

  1. The removal of PFAS from the environment, in part or total;
  2. The safe destruction or degradation of PFAS;
  3. The development and deployment of safer and more environmentally friendly alternative substances that are functionally similar to those made with PFAS;
  4. The understanding of sources of environmental PFAS contamination and pathways to exposure for the public; and/or
  5. The understanding of the toxicity of PFAS to humans and animals.

In the letter, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), representing large drinking water systems, highlighted the need for a robust PFAS research plan that addresses the highest priority human health concerns. The association highlighted the need for further study of potential health effects, exposure pathways, and cost-effective treatment and destruction technologies. As EPA and other federal agencies contemplate actions of PFAS, new research will be crucial for effective and accurate decision making. AMWA said will continue to support the actions based on the most up-to-date science to address PFAS issues to protect public health.

Noting that any regulation that aims to reduce PFAS is only as appropriate as the scientific data used to inform the regulatory action, NACWA, representing clean water systems, responded to OSTP’s request by outlining key scientific and other data gaps that should be filled prior to developing a comprehensive federal strategic plan on PFAS. Closing scientific gaps in risk assessment is imperative to gain a better understanding of the concentrations of these chemicals, individually or aggregated, that pose an actual risk to public health and the environment, as well as the fate and transport pathways by which these chemicals move in the environment.   

The recent EPA announcement on the proposed listing of two of the most widely used PFAS as hazardous substances under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) makes filling these data gaps that much more critical. NACWA said it remains committed to pursuing the “polluter pays” approach to addressing PFAS that places full liability on the manufactures of the chemicals, not clean water utilities, and said it will be advancing that message in its continued advocacy with the White House and EPA on this critical topic.


Some information contained in this news update was first reported by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which have been closely following regulatory issues related to PFAS.

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