EPA proposes first limits to PFAS in wastewater


(Reuters) – The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced plans for regulation that would for the first time set limits on levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that certain manufacturers and users of the chemical compound discharge in wastewater.

The EPA said it will start preliminary work on a pollution rule for how much PFAS can be discharged into sewage treatment systems and surface waters from “facilities manufacturing PFAS” that are part of the organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers industries. It will also work on a PFAS pollution rule for industries that perform metal-finishing operations.

There are currently no federal regulatory standards for PFAS discharges by these industries, said Albert Lin, a professor of law at the University of California Davis School of Law.

With the proposed rules, “for the first time, EPA is committing to limit PFAS in wastewater discharges,” Radhika Fox, the agency’s assistant administrator for water, said in a statement. The regulations would ultimately protect drinking water supplies, she added.

PFAS, nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily, have been associated with various illnesses including kidney cancer. They have been used for decades in household products such as nonstick cookware, stain- and water-resistant textiles, rugs, food packaging, photo imaging, and in industrial products. Many states have already outlawed their use in food packaging.

Lin, who specializes in toxic torts and environmental law, said establishing the regulatory standards would likely take years, and called the upcoming process “potentially arduous.”

Ralph DeMeo, a shareholder at Guilday Law, said the development was “a very big deal” because of the ubiquity of wastewater treatment facilities that the regulations would touch upon.

The EPA says its surface water discharge regulations for the organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers industries cover more than 1,000 chemical facilities producing over 25,000 products, from benzene to rayon and polyester.

About 44,000 facilities perform various metal-finishing operations and discharge wastewater directly or indirectly into surface waters, the agency says.

EPA’s announcement comes amid renewed efforts to phase out the substance, with the Biden administration seeking funding to clean up PFAS-contaminated industrial sites and to conduct research on the chemical’s effects.

The agency will take comments on its proposal.

EPA last week published a draft of the first laboratory analytical method it has validated to test for PFAS in wastewater, surface water and soil.

reuters.com, 10 September 2021
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