Summary of PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024

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Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) testing and regulations are developing rapidly. In October 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024, which lists 31 key actions that the EPA plans to undertake during the Biden-Harris administration’s first term. This comprehensive document lays out a rigorous approach to PFAS, including their creation, use, and disposal, and will likely impact a majority of businesses that handle PFAS at any stage of its lifecycle.

The EPA’s approach is driven by three goals, as outlined on page 5 of the document:

  • Research. Invest in research, development, and innovation to increase understanding of PFAS exposures and toxicities, human health and ecological effects, and effective interventions that incorporate the best available science.
  • Restrict. Pursue a comprehensive approach to proactively prevent PFAS from entering air, land, and water at levels that can adversely impact human health and the environment.
  • Remediate. Broaden and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination to protect human health and ecological systems.

Below is a summary of some of the EPA’s most notable planned actions, as expressed in their document.

Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

  • Publish a National PFAS Testing Strategy document. As only minimal or no data are available as evidence of how toxic the majority of PFAS chemicals are, EPA regards expanded testing and data collection as important. These efforts will enable the EPA to identify which PFAS chemicals should be the focus of additional testing and potentially stricter regulation. This action item outlines the plan to create a National PFAS Testing Strategy. Testing efforts are already underway. On December 28, 2021, the EPA selected 24 chemicals to test that are representative of larger classes of PFAS chemicals. These 24 chemicals can be extrapolated to help us learn about 2,950 PFAS chemicals belonging to the same categories.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: EPA expects to exercise its authority to require PFAS manufacturers to conduct and fund the studies.

Status: The National PFAS Testing Strategy document has been released, and is available on the EPA website.

  • Ensure new PFAS undergo rigorous review. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) oversees required reporting, testing requirements, record-keeping requirements, and restrictions for Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon, lead, mercury, and formaldehyde. The TSCA New Chemicals Review Program that was signed into law on June 22, 2016, requires the EPA to conduct a risk assessment of the full life cycle of new chemical substances, including PFAS. Multiple PFAS entered the market under a low-volume exception that shortened this review process to 30 days. Moving forward, new PFAS chemicals will be required to undergo the full review before being approved.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: The EPA will conduct full reviews going forward.

Status: Implementation is immediate and will apply to current and future chemical submissions.

  • Enhance PFAS reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI has been expanded to require reporting for 179 PFAS chemicals over the past several years, but exemptions and exclusions have limited how much data has been collected by the EPA for these substances. The EPA plans to propose a new rule in 2022 that removes these exclusions by designating PFAS “Chemicals of Special Concern.” They also plan to propose adding more PFAS chemicals to the TRI in 2022.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: If the new rulemaking takes effect, companies that manufacture and use PFAS will be expected to comply with TRI reporting requirements and will not be eligible for exceptions. Companies must report releases of 100 pounds or more of any chemical in the TRI.

Status: Anticipated in 2022.

Office of Water

  • Expand drinking water monitoring for PFAS to a national level. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1996 and subsequent amendments established a monitoring program that requires water systems to test unregulated contaminants in drinking water once every five years. The EPA proposed the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) in March 2021, which, if passed, would expand the water systems included in the program to a national level. All systems that serve 3,300 people or more, and 800 public water systems that serve fewer than that number, would have to participate.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: National public water systems above a certain size will have test for contaminants.

Status: UCMR 5 was published December 27, 2021, was effective January 26, 2022, and applies to qualifying water systems for the 2023–2025 sampling period.

  • Establish enforceable regulations for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in drinking water. The SDWA granted the EPA authority to establish enforceable National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for contaminants that EPA deems concerning. More than 90 substances have been regulated so far, but no PFAS chemicals are included on that list. The EPA is planning to establish NPDWRs for PFOA and PFOS.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Public water systems would have to comply with regulations should they pass.

Status: Proposed regulations are anticipated in fall 2022, and final regulations are anticipated in fall 2023.

  • Publish a toxicity assessment for five PFAS and two GenX chemicals. DuPont invented GenX PFAS chemicals in 2009 as a sustainable alternative to the first generation of PFAS chemicals. The EPA has been working on a toxicity assessment for two of these GenX chemicals and five additional PFAS chemicals.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Information to be published by the EPA.

Status: The assessment was released in October 2021 and is available EPA website.

  • Publish health advisories on PFBS and GenX. Health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, but can help local, state, and tribal governments make informed decisions. The EPA is planning to publish health advisories for Perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), a PFAS chemical, and GenX chemicals. Health advisories were previously published for PFOS and PFOA.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Information to be published by the EPA.

Status: Anticipated spring 2022.

  • Publish national recommended ambient water quality criteria for PFAS. The EPA is developing criteria to preserve human health and aquatic life. Even though EPA-recommended water quality criteria are non-regulatory, they help state and tribal governments to make informed decisions. Drinking water and fish consumption will be considered in developing the human health standards.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Information to be published by the EPA.

Status: Aquatic life criteria are anticipated winter 2022, and human health criteria are anticipated fall 2024.

Office of Land and Emergency Management

  • Propose PFOA and PFOS hazardous substance designation. The EPA is working on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will include PFOA and PFOS in the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). If they are designated as CERCLA hazardous substances, facilities will be subject to stricter reporting requirements for releases. The EPA and other similar agencies would also be able to gain cost recovery in full or part for efforts made to clean up these substances.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Companies that release PFAS or sites where PFAS waste is stored would have to comply with strict reporting requirements for releases, and may have to fund clean-up efforts.

Status: Proposed rulemaking anticipated spring 2022; final ruling anticipated summer 2023.

Office of Air and Radiation

  • Conduct research to address PFAS air emissions. The 1970 Clean Air Act requires that the EPA regulate hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions. Currently 187 HAPs are regulated under this act, and none of them are PFAS chemicals. Research is underway to identify PFAS air emission sources, develop approaches for accurately measuring stack emissions and ambient PFAS concentrations, build affordable mitigation technologies, and learn more about the fate and transport of PFAS air emissions. Regulations on PFAS chemicals as air pollutants are expected in the near future.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: This would affect any company that manufactures, uses, or disposes of PFAS in a manner in which it may be emitted in the air.

Status: Ongoing; no current date anticipated.

Cross Programs Between Different Offices

  • Identify PFAS categories. The EPA is conducting research and working to define parameters that will divide the broader category of PFAS – which includes more than 6,500 chemicals – into smaller categories. These sub-classes will be based on similarities in physical or chemical properties, chemical structure, toxicological properties, and more. Initially, the EPA is planning to use toxicity data to identify categories that need further hazard assessment. Then the EPA will develop PFAS classes organized around removal technologies to help inform regulations on mitigation, disposal, remediation, treatment, destruction, and control. This categorization will also identify gaps in knowledge that will help guide future research efforts.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties:EPA will take the next steps.

Status: The PFAS National Testing Strategy was released in October 2021, and outlines progress on identifying classes of PFAS on pages 5 and 6. Efforts are ongoing.

  • Create a voluntary PFAS stewardship program. While regulations are still being developed, the EPA is planning to establish a voluntary PFAS stewardship program. Participating PFAS manufacturers and users can elect to go above and beyond required regulations. There is precedence of success with this type of effort. In 2006, the EPA asked eight companies to voluntarily phase out PFOA by 2015. All eight companies agreed to participate.

Anticipated impacts and affected parties: Companies that manufacture and use PFAS could possibly be affected.

Status: Anticipated spring 2022.

Going forward, the EPA plans to release a yearly progress report on the 31 actions laid out in this document.


Summary of PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024

Kenneth J. Craig

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Kenneth J. Craig
Manager, Atmospheric and Emissions Modeling Group / Principal Scientist