What Challenges Can the Water Management Sector Expect From the EPA’s New PFAS Regulations

The EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) now requires the maximum contaminant levels for two common versions of the chemical, PFOA and PFOS, to be no more than 4 parts per trillion.

Last week, the US EPA proposed enforceable National Standards for 6 PFAS compounds. The much-needed regulations have now been released, and they will have a big impact on all sectors of water and waste management. The EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) now requires the maximum contaminant levels for two common versions of the chemical, PFOA and PFOS, to be no more than 4 parts per trillion. The previous national standard was only provided as health advisories for local agencies and was set much higher, at 70 parts per trillion. For a more detailed breakdown, see the table below.

In a follow-up announcement, US EPA also mentioned that should the two PFAS compounds (PFOA and PFOS) were to be listed as hazardous waste under CERCLA, both water and wastewater facilities will not be targeted, which means some reprieve to the water and wastewater facilities that are regulated by the EPA.

The EPA has shared that they plan on providing a web-based tool to compute Hazard Index (HI). The reason for this has to do with the 4 other PFAS compounds included in the equation. Under the planned approach, any combined concentration of the four compounds greater than 1.0 on the Hazard Index would exceed the MCL laid out.

How the New EPA PFAS/PFOS Regulations Impact the Water Management Sector?

Should the new proposed regulations go into effect, water management facilities will need to comply within a 3-year timeframe. This means water management facilities will need to receive new funding to upgrade current systems –– possibly from IIJA funds. The changes mean there will also be increased stress on other environmental sectors, such as wastewater or landfills, and undoubtedly on the current supply chain. The industry can expect other regulations to follow, including CERCLA’s possible designation of certain PFAS compounds. It will not be far behind that wastewater discharge be regulated too.

New PFAS/PFOS Limits for Water Plants

Under the new proposed regulations, all water plants will have to comply with these new limits, which means at the very least an estimated one-quarter of all water plants in the US will need to install some PFAS-specific treatment, such as granular activated carbon (GAC) filters, selective ion exchange (IX) media filters, and reverse osmosis (RO) membrane, etc.

These treatments are meant to sequester and remove PFAS from source water. The current supply chain, which is already strained, might be further impacted due to a rush to procure and install new treatments at the facilities impacted. All this will be on the mind of state regulators and city planners looking forward.

Emphasis On Source Control Will Increase

Emphasis on source control will increase, i.e. water plants will be able to identify specific point sources (like manufacturing industries or users of PFAS compounds) and require control measures in place to prevent or limit discharge of PFAS into the ecosystem, which eventually ends up in the source water.

Expect More Regulations to Come for Wastewater Plants

While most of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (commonly known as Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)) money that was allocated for both water and wastewater infrastructure improvements might now exclusively go to the water sector due to the need for immediate action, rendering some wastewater projects underfunded or delayed.

But wastewater plants might be next in line to be regulated since most wastewater from plants discharging into rivers make up a significant portion of drinking water plant intake downstream. Some state regulators have already raised this issue in private conversation, and believe this may be inevitable.

How will it impact 374Water?

374Water is ready to deploy destruction technologies that will once and for all remove PFAS compounds from the ecosystem. The growth in sequestration of PFAS using GAC, IX, and RO would result in the growing need for destruction technologies to completely remove PAS from the ecosystem, 374Water’s AirSCWO is a key proven destruction technology.

Wastewater plants will now need to begin to consider alternative disposal of sludges, which also tends to concentrate certain PFAS compounds, again the AirSCWO process can help eliminate sludge laden with PFAS. Unlike the current conventional processes, which are extremely labor and machine intensive, 374Water’s supercritical water oxidation units have a much smaller physical footprint, significantly smaller greenhouse gas footprint, and an undeniably cleaner output –– namely clean water and at a large enough scale, electricity.

Join the Future of PFAS Call to Action

374Water will co-host “Water Innovations for Sustainable Development” with the Delft University of Technology during the United Nations’ 2023 Water Conference in New York on Thursday, March 23rd. The panel will bring together an expert group of pioneers working on the frontlines of tackling the PFAS challenge, and help shape the “Future of PFAS Call to Action” –– a special report that will shift the conversation toward innovation, investment, and promising solutions. Join us live for the event.