EPA Fails to Commit to Setting a Drinking Water Standard for PFAS

Carper calls EPA PFAS Action Plan “insufficiently protective”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), reacted to the long-awaited Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which does not include a commitment to setting a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS chemicals and instead prolongs the evaluation of that decision for at least another year, despite earlier promises made by EPA to make a determination.

“Nearly a year ago, then-Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would decide on whether to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS as part of its PFAS Action Plan. The PFAS Action Plan being trumpeted by EPA today is insufficiently protective, and it explains why Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler would not commit to setting a drinking water standard for PFAS during his nomination hearing last month,” Senator Carper said, referring to this exchange with Mr. Wheeler during his January 16 hearing. 

“It has taken the EPA nearly a year just to kick the can even further down the road. While EPA acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe,” Senator Carper continued. “I urge Mr. Wheeler to reverse course and treat this public health threat with the urgency it deserves. And I ask my colleagues in the Senate to take note of Mr. Wheeler’s lack of urgency in addressing this threat as they consider his nomination to be EPA’s permanent administrator.”

In May 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt held a PFAS National Leadership Summit and proudly announced four “concrete steps” that EPA would take to address PFAS contamination [WATCH THE VIDEO HERE, READ THE PRESS RELEASE HERE]. Those four concrete steps were:

1. EPA would initiate steps under the Safe Drinking Water Act process to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS.

Failing to uphold that promise, in the PFAS Action Plan, EPA determined that it does not yet know whether a need for a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS exists, and EPA will not make this determination for almost a year.

2. EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially CERCLA Section 102.

EPA is moving forward with this step, but it is unclear how long it will take to complete.

3. EPA would develop groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites by fall of this 2018. 

Failing to uphold that promise, EPA guidance for groundwater cleanup at PFOA- and PFOS-contaminated sites has been stuck at the Office of Management and Budget since August 2018, leaving communities without information about what cleanup standard EPA believes is needed.

4. EPA would take action, “in close collaboration with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS.”

It is unclear whether the EPA PFAS Action Plan will include new drinking water health advisories for these or other PFAS chemicals, which could leave states and communities without a recommendation on the safe concentrations of these chemicals in drinking water in order to protect their residents.