AWWA Articles

AWWA urges U.S. EPA to base PFAS regulation on sound science

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) this week expressed its support for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to move forward on regulating two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and urged the agency to use the best available science to evaluate a drinking water standard.

PFOA and PFOSAWWA submitted its comments in response to EPA’s proposal announced Feb. 20 to regulate primary standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). At the time, EPA also asked for comment on regulatory approaches for other PFAS.

AWWA published a Briefing on PFAS that includes four guiding principles for sound PFAS regulation: commitment to public health protection, fidelity to scientific process, protection of source water, and investment in research. In its comments, AWWA stated that EPA should move forward promptly to develop standards for PFOA and PFOS, “but not without undertaking the analyses required to ensure that the resulting regulations are sound.”

AWWA also recommended that the EPA use data from the upcoming Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule and ongoing toxicity assessments when considering regulatory approaches for additional PFAS.

“AWWA welcomes a robust scientific review of the toxicological research that is available,” the comments stated. “Attributing specific health effects to PFOA and PFOS is complicated and different toxicologists have come to very different conclusions based on the available data. These conclusions are so different as to have substantial implications for regulatory thresholds and drinking water treatment.”

Numerous states are setting their own varied standards for PFOA, PFOS and other PFAS. AWWA said the lack of consistency among these standards creates “a communication challenge for water systems surrounding the public health risks of PFAS exposure, confuses the public, and hurts the credibility and validity of risk assessment processes.”

In its comments, AWWA also suggested that existing state and federal statutory authorities -- the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act -- are not being effectively applied to stop PFAS from entering U.S. surface water and ground water.
“Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards are not intended to be the trigger for protective actions, but rather the failsafe for when other best available business practices and regulatory barriers have failed,” AWWA stated. “If drinking water standards are to be developed, then these authorities should be used to minimize drinking water supply contamination.”
AWWA stressed that regardless of EPA’s future regulatory approach for PFAS, a sound path forward must:

1.    Provide meaningful public health benefit through removing an appropriately targeted contaminant or group of contaminants.
2.    Rely on an available treatment technology that has been demonstrated to be effective under a robust array of field conditions.
3.    Minimize adverse unintended consequences including simultaneous compliance and operational considerations.
4.    Avoid forcing water systems to make long-term capital investments, which are subsequently left stranded by shifting regulatory policies.
5.    Recognize that funds utilized by water systems to address poorly characterized potential risks reduce the amount of funding available to address well-understood risks and make necessary improvements.

AWWA resources on PFAS are available at awwa.org/pfas.

 


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