Per– and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Overview

Protecting public health and ensuring the safety of South Carolina’s air, land, and water are DHEC’s highest priorities. One of the challenges with this priority is addressing chemicals for which the agency has no regulatory authority. These chemicals, referred to as emerging contaminants, are those with which we have a new awareness and understanding of how they behave in the environment and affect public health.

One class of these emerging contaminants is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group now believed to be more than 9,000 man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1940s for their heat resistance and water-, oil-, and dirt-repellence. Because of their stability, PFAS resist breakdown by natural processes and persist in the environment indefinitely, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” The most common exposure route is from swallowing food or water that contains PFAS.

PFAS have been commonly used in the manufacturing of:

  • nonstick cookware
  • food packaging (ex: microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, sliced cheese wrappers, pizza boxes)
  • stain-resistant carpets and fabrics and water-resistant clothing
  • paints, varnishes and sealants
  • cosmetics
  • dental floss
  • fire-fighting foams

Exposure to PFAS chemicals via touching, contact with the skin, and inhalation are lesser human health concerns at this time.  

DHEC is currently addressing this emerging contaminant class in several ways:

DHEC is committed to staying engaged with our partners at the national level, including the EPA and Environmental Council of the States, and sharing information in regards to emerging contaminants. As the science and technology evolves, DHEC will work closely with EPA as it continues to implement its action plan on PFAS. DHEC is also committed to sharing information with the public so they remain informed and involved as knowledge is gained and used to make decisions to protect public health.  

Drinking Water

On February 20, 2020, EPA announced it was seeking public comment on its proposed regulatory determination for eight contaminants in drinking water listed on the fourth Contaminant Candidate List. Of the eight contaminants, EPA proposed to regulate two PFAS analytes, PFOA and PFOS. On January 19, 2021, EPA announced its final determination to regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water (https://www.epa.gov/ccl/regulatory-determination-4).

Issuance of this final regulatory determination means EPA will use the process specified in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act to develop and promulgate national primary drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. Steps in this process include  additional sample analyses, scientific review and public engagement. EPA has announced its intention to fast track evaluation of additional PFAS, if and as necessary data and information become available, for other PFAS analytes in drinking water.  

Also, on January 19, 2021, EPA announced that it has determined that PFAS data will be collected under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 5 (UCMR 5) effort. UCMR 5 will include the six PFAS analytes collected in UCMR 3 as well as 23 other PFAS analytes. Data acquired from the 29 PFAS analytes will be used by EPA to better understand occurrence and prevalence of PFAS in the nation’s drinking water (https://www.epa.gov/dwucmr/fifth-unregulated-contaminant-monitoring-rule).

On February 22, 2021, EPA:

  • reissued final regulatory determinations for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) for development of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and
  • reproposed using the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) effort to collect new data on PFAS in drinking water.

https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-takes-action-address-pfas-drinking-water

Wastewater

EPA also announced on January 19, 2021, next steps it is taking to address PFAS in wastewater. 

  • With the publication of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, EPA intends to acquire data and information about PFAS manufacturers and the presence and treatment of PFAS in discharges from those manufacturing facilities. 
  • EPA will also request information regarding PFAS formulators. These are facilities that produce various PFAS products and materials from PFAS feedstocks. 

EPA’s decision to move forward in this action is based on information the Agency has collected and presented in Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 14 and will help inform whether these industrial sources warrant regulation through national Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) to address PFAS discharges. Also, EPA published an interim strategy for PFAS in NPDES permits issued by EPA (https://www.epa.gov/pfas/interim-strategy-and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-federally-issued-national-pollutant-discharge).

DHEC intends to address PFAS in NPDES-permitted wastewater as part of the soon-to-be issued strategy for assessment of PFAS in ambient surface waters.

Toxicity Assessment Update 

On April 8, 2021, USEPA released an updated toxicity assessment for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), a member of the PFAS class. PFBS has been used in some cases as a substitute for perflurooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in some consumer products. The USEPA press release and supporting documentation can be found here;
https://www.epa.gov/pfas/learn-about-human-health-toxicity-assessment-pfbs.

Additional Resources

*Page last updated 4/12/2021 at 10:08 AM.