PFAS Maximum Contaminant Level
The public comment period ended on May 30, 2023, for EPA to receive input regarding its preliminary determinations to regulate certain PFAS chemicals and its proposed national primary drinking water regulation (NPDWR) that sets maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) and maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for certain PFAS chemicals. The NPDWR also requires public water systems to monitor, notify the public of the levels, and reduce the levels of certain PFAS chemicals if they exceed the proposed standards. No action is required until after the EPA considers public comments and finalizes the NPDWR.
As of May 31, 2023, the EPA has received a total of 97,793 written comments, of which 160 have been publicly posted and are available on regulations.gov under Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114. The EPA has stated that it will carefully review these written comments equally with the oral public comments in developing the final NPDWR. After finishing its review and developing a final NPDWR, a draft will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and recommendations. The EPA must address OMB concerns and respond to its comments. Then, a final NPDWR will be published in the Federal Register. The final NPDWR will explain the provisions that are adopted, including a discussion of changes from the proposed rule and a response to all significant public comments.
EPA is required to move forward with a final rule within 18 months after publishing the proposed rule, unless extended in accordance with federal statute. EPA has stated it anticipates finalizing and releasing a final regulation by the end of 2023, with an effective date requiring compliance within three years following final rule promulgation.
DHEC has been proactively performing its own statewide strategies for assessing the presence and impacts of PFAS chemicals in South Carolina and looks forward to working with our federal partners and statewide water providers in implementing the NPDWR, including the MCLs once they become finalized by the EPA.
Per– and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that affect our environment through impacted wastewater, landfill leachate, surface water, groundwater and air.
EPA includes several important assumptions in their risk calculations.
They assume that:
- 20% of exposure comes from drinking water;
- individuals drink 2.5 L of the same water per day, 365 days/yr for 70 years (lifetime exposure).
The remaining 80% of exposure comes from sources other than drinking water, many of which are not regulated by the EPA or by states. These sources include: household goods, fast-food packaging, clothing, carpets, cosmetics and other.
*This graphic depicts the cycling of PFAS in the environment. Currently there are no cost-effective methods to destroy these chemicals. PFAS in wastewater treatment residues disposed of in landfills can return to the environment.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a large group of man-made chemicals that present public health and environmental issues in communities across the United States. PFAS have been used worldwide in consumer products and in some industrial applications to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. PFAS chemicals are widespread in the environment because of their longevity, unlimited uses and resistance to breakdown. PFAS can accumulate in people, wildlife and fish. Common consumer products that may still use PFAS in their production include, but are not limited to:
- some nonstick cookware
- food packaging (ex: microwave popcorn bags, fast food wrappers, sliced cheese wrappers, pizza boxes)
- stain-resistant carpets, fabrics and water-resistant clothing
- paints, varnishes and sealants
- dental floss
- fire-fighting foams used on flammable liquids
- pesticide formulation packaging
Why were they developed?
PFAS were considered valuable compounds because of their effectiveness at repelling grease and water in many textile applications as well as their usefulness in making foam to extinguish large scale fuel fires.
Why are PFAS Important?
Although PFAS toxicity is being intensively researched worldwide, there is still much more to learn. Exposures to certain PFAS have been associated with increased rates of specific cancers in the liver, kidney and testes, decreased birth weights and immune system suppression, among other adverse health effects. Some PFAS can accumulate in people’s bodies and may be retained for several years before they are eliminated. Blood serum concentrations in most Americans tested in recent years are generally less than levels associated with adverse health effects. Due to decreased use of some of these chemicals, concentrations of PFAS, specifically perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), studied in Americans’ blood serum are lower than they were just 20 years ago.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a series of Health Advisories (HA) for four PFAS since 2016 in drinking water. None of the HAs are considered to be regulatory or enforceable by the EPA. The HAs were derived to be protective of the most sensitive water consumers, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, to protect their infants and newborn babies from any potential adverse health effects that might occur. However, according to the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in most cases the benefits from breastfeeding appear to outweigh the risks of PFAS exposure to infants.
What is DHEC doing about PFAS?
DHEC’s focus related to PFAS is on their potential presence in drinking water sources. The agency has implemented several strategies with the goal of determining the presence and concentrations of PFAS in our state’s surface water, groundwater and land applied material. When concentrations indicate, further investigation is conducted to identify potential sources and reduce impacts.
Proviso 34.63 Pollutants Remediation Fund
In June 2022, the SC House Ways and Means Committee added a budget proviso that established the “PFOS, PFOA and Emerging Pollutants Remediation Fund.” The funds are expressly for the mitigation of emerging contaminants like PFAS found in drinking water above the HAs, with an emphasis on private wells and small drinking water systems. DHEC is working diligently alongside stakeholders to determine the best strategy to optimize the appropriated proviso funds. The funds were received in late October 2022 and work is ongoing to effectively disburse the funds where most needed.
DHEC continues to convene stakeholders to discuss priorities and impacts of PFAS across the state of South Carolina. Working collaboratively with partners, DHEC has initiated a range of discussions including updates on sampling data, considerations for industrial land application of sludge and implementation of proviso strategies. Hearing the questions and thoughts from our partners guides on-going efforts for the State. Stakeholders include drinking water and wastewater utilities, industries, agri-business, professional associations, academic partners, environmental groups and nonprofit organizations.