WASHINGTON – Thousands of polluters dumping the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS into our waterways could soon face new limits on their releases.
The Environmental Protection Agency today released guidance identifying ways states can curb industrial polluters’ release of PFAS into water, including through Clean Water Act permit limits.
The Environmental Working Group estimates there may be more than 40,000 industrial polluters of PFAS in the U.S. More than 200 million Americans could be drinking water contaminated with PFAS.
Few of these polluters are subject to restrictions. The EPA has detailed actions it will take to tackle these chemicals, and in April it laid out how it will address PFAS in EPA-issued Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits. Today’s guidance applies to NPDES permits issued by state regulators.
“For decades, the vast majority of PFAS polluters have dumped as much PFAS as they wanted into our rivers, lakes and bays with impunity,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. “It’s time for state regulators to turn off the tap of PFAS pollution.”
Industrial polluters have caused significant PFAS contamination in places like the Cape Fear River Basin, in North Carolina, Parkersburg, W.V., Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Belmont, Mich.
“States can dramatically reduce new PFAS contamination by placing limits in new and existing permits,” Benesh said. “The EPA’s new guidance will help them to do that more effectively.”
Under the Clean Water Act, facilities must get a NPDES permit before releasing pollutants into the environment. Most of these permits do not currently address PFAS.
The EPA is responsible for issuing these permits to facilities in three states and the District of Columbia, but most states have their own permitting programs. Today’s guidance will help states add requirements to new and existing permits, like monitoring, using alternatives to PFAS, and treating PFAS wastes before discharging. In October, 49 members of Congress wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, asking the agency to issue strong guidance to state permit writers.
PFAS build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment. Even very low levels of PFAS exposure have been linked to cancer and harm to the reproductive and immune systems.
The EPA has committed in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap to develop federal limits for some categories of industrial users but has not provided any deadlines for final rules.
The Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, introduced in Congress earlier this year, would accelerate the EPA’s efforts to set standards for PFAS releases for nine key industry categories. It would apply to manufacturers of paint, leather tanning, plastics, electrical components, textiles, and chemicals, as well as landfills, metal finishing and electroplating companies.
“Downstream communities have suffered the consequences of unregulated PFAS discharges for too long. Congress should pass the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, and the EPA should work more quickly to set federal standards for PFAS polluters,” said Benesh. “Today’s guidance makes clear states do not have to wait for the EPA – and they shouldn’t.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.