by Patrick Paul

On April 10, 2024, President Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently finalized a significant rule addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, marking the first time that legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to PFAS have been issued. Concurrent with the final rule, EPA published a Fact Sheet to assist in better understanding the rule’s complexities. For industries that manufacture or utilize PFAS, this new regulation presents a series of challenges and potential legal implications that warrant careful consideration.

The rule establishes national drinking water standards for six specific PFAS compounds, setting enforceable limits on their concentrations in public water systems. This move is part of a broader effort to mitigate the environmental and health risks associated with PFAS, which are known for their persistence and potential links to various health issues.

From an industry standpoint, the implications of this rule are multifaceted. First and foremost, companies that produce or use PFAS in their operations may face increased regulatory scrutiny and pressure to phase out or find alternatives to these chemicals. This could entail significant research and development costs, as well as operational changes to comply with the new standards.

Moreover, the rule may lead to increased costs for water treatment and monitoring for industries that discharge PFAS into water systems. These added expenses could impact the bottom line and necessitate adjustments in pricing, production processes, or even business models to accommodate the new regulatory landscape.

Legal challenges to the rule are also a possibility. Industry groups may argue that the EPA’s standards are overly stringent or not based on sound science, potentially leading to litigation aimed at overturning or modifying the rule. Such challenges could be based on claims that the EPA did not adequately consider the economic impact of the regulation or that the rule exceeds the agency’s statutory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Additionally, the establishment of national standards for PFAS in drinking water could open the door to increased litigation against companies responsible for PFAS pollution. With clear regulatory benchmarks in place, affected communities may have a stronger basis for seeking damages or remediation efforts from polluters.

In light of these challenges, it is crucial for industry stakeholders to closely monitor the implementation of the new PFAS rule and engage in proactive compliance efforts. This may include investing in technologies to reduce PFAS emissions, exploring alternative materials, and participating in industry-wide initiatives to address the environmental impact of these chemicals.

In sum, EPA’s new PFAS rule represents a significant shift in the regulatory environment for industries involved with these chemicals in some manner or another. Businesses should be prepared to navigate the legal landscape surrounding the rule, including potential challenges to the regulation itself and litigation related to PFAS contamination. Engaging with legal experts and industry associations can provide valuable insights and support in managing the complex regulatory and legal issues associated with PFAS and the impacts of this new rule.