| U.S. EPA announces much lower PFAS health advisories, grant funding
AWWA Articles

U.S. EPA announces much lower PFAS health advisories, grant funding

PFAS sourcesThis week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released drinking water lifetime health advisories (HAs) for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The American Water Works Association (AWWA) issued a statement supporting the establishment of national drinking water standards for PFAS that protect consumers while also providing a clear and consistent path forward for managing harmful levels.

Lifetime HAs are intended, with a margin of safety, to represent levels at which adverse health effects are not expected to occur over a lifetime of exposure. Health advisories are not regulatory levels and are not a federally-enforceable health-based limit.

Two of the HAs are final: hexafluoropropylene dimer acid (GenX), at 10 parts per trillion (10 ng/L); and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS), at 2,000 parts per trillion (2,000 ng/L).

PFOA and PFOS chemical compoundsThe other HAs are interim: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), at 0.004 parts per trillion (0.004 ng/L); and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), at 0.02 parts per trillion (0.020 ng/L). These interim HAs for PFOA and PFOS replace the previous 70 ng/L advisory value released in 2016.

“The PFOA and PFOS advisory levels are extremely low and do not reflect the draft recommendations of EPA’s own expert Science Advisory Board review,” AWWA’s statement said. “The health advisory levels at parts per quadrillion are undetectable by modern laboratory methods.”

EPA also announced that $1 billion in grants would be available in fiscal year 2022 through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to support community investments to manage PFAS in drinking water. A total of $5 billion in IIJA funding will be available over the next five years, in addition to State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) funds, which are prioritized for small utilities and disadvantaged communities. States and territories should submit a letter of intent by Aug. 15, 2022, to receive grant funding. 

PFAS risk assessment and communication

EPA’s PFAS announcement emphasizes 1) assessing the extent of contamination, 2) informing customers, and 3) examining steps to limit exposure. EPA acknowledges that the HAs reflect levels at which negative effects may occur but that such effects are more likely at higher concentrations.

“AWWA’s members are working diligently to manage the risk posed by PFAS in drinking water,” AWWA’s statement said. “At the low levels set in the health advisories, protecting source water from PFAS contamination is critical. AWWA urges Congress and other decision-makers to implement policies that keep harmful PFAS out of our communities, especially the nation’s drinking water supply.”

EPA is hosting a June 23 webinar to provide guidance for utilities on how to communicate with the public about the risks of PFAS. The agency also provides online risk communication materials, including:

AWWA has a suite of resources available on its PFAS resource page, including Trending in an Instant: A Risk Communication Guide for Water Utilities.