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OEC Comments to US EPA on Drinking Water Standards for PFAS

May 27, 2023

Ms. Radhika Fox
Assistant Administrator
Office of Water
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Mail code: 4101M
Washington, DC 20460–0001

RE: Comments regarding Proposed PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114)

Dear Assistant Administrator Fox:

The Ohio Environmental Council appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on EPA’s proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, commonly known as GenX Chemicals), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).

In 2018, the Ohio Environmental Council submitted a petition for rulemaking to the EPA pertaining PFAS, outlining the need for comprehensive regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act. Since submission, the science surrounding PFAS has provided even more evidence demonstrating its risks. And while it has taken nearly five years for the agency to take substantive action under either law, we’re excited by these first steps, and look forward to additional PFAS regulation over the coming years. While regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act is essential to protect human health and the environment, we must also regulate PFAS in surface water, eliminating present and future point sources.

EPA’s proposal to set strong, scientifically supported drinking water standards for six PFAS is an important step toward fulfilling the Biden Administration’s commitment to tackle these toxic forever chemicals. We commend EPA’s recognition that both individual PFAS and chemical mixtures of PFAS can threaten human health. We urge you to finalize the standards as quickly as possible.

National standards to limit the concentration of PFAS in drinking water are long overdue. For decades, PFAS have been used in thousands of applications, and a peer-reviewed study estimates that PFAS may be present in the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. EPA’s proposal for six PFAS would set the national standard for PFOA and PFOS at the lowest detection level approved by the agency, and would establish limits on GenX, PFBS, PFNA, and PFHxS using a hazard index. EPA estimates that 94 million Americans currently receive drinking water contaminated by one or more these PFAS chemicals at levels above the limits proposed by EPA. The regulation of PFAS will improve drinking water safety for millions of Americans.

Not only are PFAS widespread in drinking water, these “forever chemicals” persist throughout the environment and pose risks to public health even in trace amounts. They are found in the blood of virtually everyone on Earth, and build up in our organs. Very low doses of PFAS in drinking water have been linked to suppression of the immune system and are associated with an elevated risk of cancers and reproductive and developmental harms, among other serious health concerns.   

Because drinking water is a significant pathway of PFAS exposure, addressing contamination before it reaches our taps is key to reducing associated health problems. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that national drinking water standards present a meaningful opportunity to reduce health risks. EPA’s proposal does just that – it would  significantly reduce exposure to PFAS in drinking water and as a result, lower risks of related health impacts. 

The PFAS addressed by EPA’s proposal are among a class of thousands of forever chemicals. EPA’s proposal to use a hazard index to address multiple co-occurring PFAS recognizes the risks associated with harmful chemical mixtures. Like many members of the PFAS class, PFBS, PFNA, GenX, and PFHxS have similar chemical structures and cause similar health effects. Many communities are exposed to, and harmed by, mixtures of those PFAS in their drinking water. EPA’s approach provides a framework for addressing additional PFAS and mixtures of chemicals in the future, which would allow the Agency to move more rapidly to protect public health.

EPA’s proposed drinking water standards also align with the Biden Administration’s commitment to advance environmental justice. Communities of color and low-income communities have historically faced disproportionate exposure to pollution and cumulative adverse health effects from multiple co-occurring contaminants. Published research suggests that communities with higher populations of people of color may be especially impacted by PFAS. By regulating six dangerous PFAS in drinking water, EPA’s proposal helps to reduce overall PFAS exposure, and improve drinking water safety in thousands of communities across the country.

Under EPA’s proposal, drinking water utilities will be required to test water for PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS, PFNA, and PFHxS and install treatment technologies to reduce the concentrations of these chemicals to the level of EPA’s proposed “maximum contaminant levels” or lower.  Fortunately, proven technology is available that will not only reduce the presence of the six PFAS in EPA’s proposal, but will also improve protection against other PFAS compounds and common contaminants. 

While some water utilities have already installed water treatment technology capable of reducing PFAS, many are not yet equipped to do so. To help communities, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which provides $9 billion in funding for drinking water treatment upgrades, and an additional $11.7 billion for other necessary drinking water infrastructure needs. This funding will aid utilities in meeting EPA’s proposed drinking water standards and improve drinking water safety.

In addition to swiftly finalizing drinking water standards for PFAS, we urge EPA to expedite efforts to prevent these forever chemicals from polluting the environment in the first place by: controlling industrial discharges of PFAS into water, and addressing PFAS in state- and federal-issued permits consistent with EPA’s 2022 guidance under the Clean Water Act; reducing unnecessary uses of PFAS, and preventing the entry of dangerous new PFAS chemicals into commerce under the Toxic Substances Control Act; minimizing PFAS emissions under the Clean Air Act; cleaning up PFAS contaminated sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; and regulating PFAS disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 

The ubiquitous nature of PFAS contamination underscores the need to curb all pathways of PFAS exposure and sources of pollution. EPA’s 2021 Strategic PFAS Roadmap outlined a broad suite of actions to address the PFAS crisis, and following through on Roadmap commitments is of the utmost importance.

Thank you for taking these comments into consideration as you finalize the Proposed PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation.

Melanie Houston,

Managing Director of Water Policy
The Ohio Environmental Council