The ubiquitous presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and their potential to have negative effects on human and aquatic health continue to be leading topics across the United States as more research is gathered to develop a broad body of scientific knowledge.
There are currently two or three major pathways of thought regarding the risk to human health and the environment. There are agencies that have adopted a highly conservative approach to new PFAS regulation and emphasize evidence of significant health impacts such as gastrointestinal system colitis, high cholesterol, abnormal fat metabolism, liver damage, high blood pressure and cancer. Other agencies have taken a wait-and-see approach as the body of knowledge grows, and still others have contested the science used to develop the proposed standards citing research that shows no links between cancer and PFAS.
Research into the subject continues at a fevered pace. While this is a nationwide issue, to give an idea of the efforts regionally underway in the coastal Southeast (including select federal efforts), here is a digest of actions and initiatives ongoing and upcoming in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
Federal: As of Feb. 20, the U.S. EPA is proposing regulatory determinations for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water. The EPA is seeking public comment on its proposed regulatory determinations for eight contaminants listed on the fourth Contaminant Candidate List. The agency is proposing to regulate two contaminants, PFOS and PFOA.
Florida: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has derived provisional groundwater and soil cleanup levels and proposed surface water standards for PFAS due to its chemical composition that leads to an elevated environmental presence. This chemical composition also makes remediation difficult. This work is generated from scientific research by the University of Florida, and the FDEP is actively investigating historic use and impacts to drinking water sources.
Georgia: The state is actively investigating drinking water sources in the city of Summerville in relation to the Raccoon Creek Treatment Plant. This is in relation to elevated PFOA and PFOS levels.
South Carolina: The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is focusing on oversight of possible contaminant sources such as Department of Defense (DOD) facilities. In January, the state conducted groundwater sampling of wells which serve communities near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. Additionally, development of a strategy for further evaluation of PFAS in drinking water is underway.
North Carolina: On Feb. 5, the North Carolina PFAS Testing Network published, “Assessing the effectiveness of point-of-use residential drinking water filters for perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).” There is ongoing advanced early monitoring with a statewide PFAS sampling and monitoring network of both air and drinking water. DEQ and DHHS are seeking involvement by the EPA on the health effects of these emerging contaminants. Incidentally, as of March 18, all testing and sample collection by the network has been halted until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virginia: On March 2, the Virginia legislature unanimously adopted a bill for Virginia to study the occurrence of PFOA, PFOS and PFAS in the state’s public drinking water and develop recommendations for specific maximum contaminant levels. This legislation is awaiting signature by the governor on or before April 11.
At this point, it is anyone’s guess what pathway states will commit to to fight PFAS; however, it is my hope that legislators and administrators will fairly weigh economic, health, environmental and social impacts and continue to think about actions that can be taken upstream, not just downstream. As solid waste managers, we will do our part to contain, manage and mitigate the PFAS issue to the best of our abilities—and we will work with our state and federal colleagues to do so. PFAS do not originate in the waste and recycling streams, but we need to address it by pushing for proper management both before and after the point of disposal. This must stay top of mind for legislators as well as the solid waste management industry as a whole.