During 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected discharge data for PFAS as part of its Multi-Industry PFAS Study. The purpose behind the study was to identify facilities producing or using PFAS, look at their wastewater characteristics, estimate PFAS in their discharges, and identify control practices and treatment options. As part of the study, EPA collected data from various EPA data sets and obtained information from other federal agencies (the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Food and Drug Administration), states and EPA regions, as well as information from industrial users. After EPA collected its data, it categorically broke down the results of its study into the following groups:
- Organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers (OCPSF)
- Metal finishing
- Pulp, paper, and paperboard
- Textile mills
- Commercial airports
The information collected by EPA during its study will be used to further identify companies and facilities that manufacture, import, or process PFAS.
EPA concludes in its study that PFAS are manufactured and used by OCPSF facilities. Specifically, EPA identified six such facilities that manufacture PFAS in the U.S. The PFAS-containing chemicals are then sometimes transferred to other facilities where they are used in production processes to manufacture plastic, rubber, cleaning products, resins, and coatings. EPA concludes that these operations likely generate PFAS-containing wastewater and that there are few monitoring requirements or standards for PFAS generated by OCPSF facilities.
EPA concludes in its study that PFAS are manufactured and used by metal finishing facilities. EPA found that chromium electroplating facilities are the most significant source of PFAS in this category. PFAS are utilized by these facilities in mist and fume suppressants in order to control hexavalent chromium emissions. The mist and fume suppressants used contain detectable levels of PFAS and EPA states that it did not identify any chromium electroplating facilities with PFAS monitoring requirements or standards in their wastewater permits.
Pulp, paper, and paperboard
EPA concludes in its study that PFAS are manufactured and used by pulp, paper, and paperboard facilities. EPA further finds, however, that only a small subset of such facilities apply PFAS as a small percentage of the facilities’ production. EPA reports that this industry plans to completely eliminate the use of PFAS by 2024. EPA did not identify any pulp, paper, or paperboard facilities with PFAS monitoring requirements or standards in their wastewater permits and notes that, although industry reports that PFAS are used in closed-loop systems, PFAS have been documented in the industry’s wastewater streams.
EPA concludes in its study that PFAS are manufactured and used by textile mills. Specifically, EPA found that textile mills apply PFAS in an extensive variety of products including clothing, rugs, footwear, upholstery, outdoor gear, firefighting gear, and medical garments. EPA notes that PFAS are either incorporated into the individual fibers used to make these products or sprayed as a coating once the fabrics are finished. EPA did not identify any textile mills with PFAS monitoring requirements or standards in their wastewater permits.
EPA notes in its study that the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directs the FAA to no longer require the use of PFAS-based aqueous firefighting foams (AFFFs). Historically, the FAA required that certain commercial airports purchase only AFFFs that conformed to a specification which required PFAS. This requirement was removed in May 2019. EPA determined, therefore, that commercial airports may generate PFAS-containing wastewater.
Future monitoring and oversight
On December 27, 2021, EPA finalized the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), which will require certain public water systems to sample for 30 PFAS substances between 2023 and 2025. EPA announced that “[w]ith the data provided by this rule, EPA will be able to develop better regulations while the agency, states, and our local partners will be able to make protective public health decisions that are grounded in science.” EPA will use the data collected to set PFAS limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which will impact not only water systems, but ultimately other businesses as well.
It is likely that any regulation promulgated under the Safe Drinking Water Act will impact users that discharge into a water source and PFAS-users that operate locations near water sources. For example, any industry identified in EPA’s Multi-Industry PFAS Study should expect to see their wastewater permits contain effluent limits after EPA finalizes its research and establishes an evidence base. It is likely that EPA will pay even closer attention to facilities that use, or have used, PFAS if they are located near a public water source or if they discharge into a water source.
Not only will newly developed regulations affect industries identified in the study, but also PFAS-specific diligence should be conducted during transactions to insure that any new owner or operator of a facility will not be inheriting PFAS liability due to historic operations at the site because, as EPA indicated in its roadmap, EPA will be focusing on PFAS remediation such as PFAS-contaminated soil, which could also cause drinking water contamination. You can read more about EPA’s roadmap to address PFAS contamination here. On March 16 and 17, 2022 EPA will be hosting virtual meetings to provide an overview of the UCMR 5 program. Links to the meetings may be found here.