EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap Explained

Earlier this month, EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Raleigh, NC to unveil a new plan to regulate PFAS compounds over the next five years. This plan is a big step forward, and though much of the stronger pieces of enforcement fall on a longer timeline that we’d like, this plan provides state agencies the tools they need to regulate these compounds right away. However, the NC Department of Environmental Quality has released their own proposed plan that involves many more years of sampling and research before any meaningful regulation occurs. 

Some of the stronger pieces of enforcement included in EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap should begin in early 2022. As planned, this will include Effluent Limitation Guidelines for certain types of industrial processes, which would regulate PFAS discharges for those specific dischargers. This roadmap also recognizes that PFAS compounds are pollutants that are required to be disclosed in discharge permits (NPDES). Disclosure will not immediately trigger limitations, but is a critical step to understanding PFAS loads discharged into surface waters and moving towards regulatory limits. Additionally, this plan has updated the process to move toward studying and regulating contaminants. In previous years, the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) had not included small communities. This changes that, so UCMR 5 will include communities of 3300 or more. This plan puts the burden of sampling and removal on the polluters themselves, which is a huge step towards industry accountability and should incentivize dischargers to move swiftly. 

However, this roadmap does have a few gaps that need to be addressed. Biosolids are not covered in this plan, other than studying for PFOA and PFOS. However, if all PFAS, and precursors, are included in regulatory action at the industry and wastewater treatment level, this could potentially prevent PFAS compounds from contaminanting biosolids. We want these compounds removed from the source; they shouldn’t be reaching our surface waters through biosolid application if that is effective. 

Secretary of NCDEQ, Elizabeth Biser, has previously stated that the agency has been waiting on guidance from EPA to start regulating these contaminants. This is the guidance they have been waiting for. Though the EPA’s roadmap has a longer timeline to include sampling and studies, NCDEQ can act on regulating PFAS compounds right now, without delay. This roadmap was set up in a way to lay out a timeline for the action plan, but states have the authority to do all of those steps as soon as possible.

In a presentation to NC Science Advisory Board earlier this month, NCDEQ Assistant Secretary Sushma Masemore presented a proposed plan to regulate PFAS in NC. This plan failed to require disclosure of PFAS compounds in discharge permits as required in the Clean Water Act, and failed to hold dischargers accountable to following technology based effluent limits. Instead, the plan relies on more years of sampling and research, and regulatory action through Maximum Contaminant Limits(MCL) and Interim Maximum Allowable Concentrations (IMAC), which will require years of health studies to give conclusive regulatory limits.