EPA’s detour from PFAS roadmap can be confusing

Today we learned that the EPA is deviating from its less than year-long roadmap on PFAS by issuing new health advisory levels for certain PFAS before the finalization of the assessment of the EPA PFAS Toxicity and setting actual drinking water standards for any PFAS.

The EPA’s well-thought-out and very aggressive PFAS roadmap had called on the EPA to do the important work needed to close what the EPA called “significant gaps” in the science regarding the toxicity of many of the hundreds of “eternal chemicals” known as PFAS on the way to establishing enforceable drinking water standards for these PFAS. In the meantime, the EPA would issue new health advisory levels only for two groups of PFAS that did not yet have health advisory levels.

Now, the EPA has decided to significantly reduce the Obama administration’s health advisory levels for some PFAS that already had them and to do so before finalizing its assessment of PFAS toxicity. Some of the new health advisory levels are so low that they cannot be reliably detected.

Presumably, the EPA has concluded that the health risks associated with these PFAS are so significant that the EPA must take this detour. But that puts states and municipalities and pretty much everyone else in a pretty tough spot. PFAS are still not “hazardous substances” under federal law, even though the EPA says we need to be concerned about them in the tiniest of concentrations. Some states acted before the EPA, but those states’ conclusions about PFAS levels that might be of concern were, for the most part, based on previous EPA health advisory levels. For these and other reasons, we cannot yet appreciate the consequences of the EPA’s detour from its PFAS roadmap. But it would seem that more panic and confusion are distinct possibilities.

{ The EPA has released long-awaited drinking water health advisory levels for four closely monitored per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including revised interim targets for chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS that are much stricter than Obama-era limits, noting that more recent research has found human health risks at “near-zero” concentrations. Speaking to reporters ahead of the official announcement, a senior administration official said the EPA was setting advisory levels for PFOA of 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) and 0.02 ppt for PFOS – several orders of magnitude tighter than the 70 ppt level than the Obama administration’s set for the pair’s combined levels.

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