The EPA released comprehensive new state guidelines concerning PFAS on December 6, 2022. The memorandum focuses on provides direction on how to use the nation’s bedrock clean water permitting program to protect against PFAS.
Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals that have been widely used in American products since the 1940s and have made their way into the water. The new EPA guidance seeks to minimize the potential for future public exposure to the chemicals.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industrial and consumer products since the 1940s due to their useful properties. There are thousands of different PFAS, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others.
PFA chemicals break down very slowly, which has allowed them to stat showing up in our water supply and systems. Today PFAS can be found almost anywhere:
- Drinking water
- Rain water (trace levels)
- Soil and water at or near waste sites (landfills, disposal sites, and hazardous waste sites)
- Manufacturing or chemical production facilities that produce or use PFAS
- Food (primarily fish & dairy)
- Food packaging products
- Household products and (dust, paints & stains, water-repellent, upholstery, clothing, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, varnishes, and sealants)
- Personal care products (some shampoo, dental floss, and cosmetics products)
- Fertilizers (produced with exposure to PFAS)
This is a scary list and it doesn’t even contain everywhere PFAS can potentially be found. But why is exposure to PFAS so bad?
Are PFAS Harmful?
The EPA states that researchers are working to better understand how toxic or harmful PFAS are to people and the environment. PFAS have been classified as hormone-disrupting chemicals. While the full extent of the dangers of PFAS are unknown, hormone-disrupting chemicals have been linked to:
- Lower fertility rates
- Thyroid disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Testicular & kidney cancer.
- Pregnancy-related complications
Estimates have been made that the economic impact of PFAS-related health issues has cost upwards of $100 billion dollars in Europe alone.
PFAS clearly lead to some harmful health conditions, but the full extent of the dangers is still being researched. The health issues are severe enough that the EPA has recently taken drastic steps to help reduce general PFAS exposure and eventually reduce the amount of PFAS found nearly everywhere.
PFAS & Work
Several professions are more likely to face higher levels of exposure to PFAS than others. Professions that may be regularly exposed to PFAS include:
- Firefighters (PFAS are in most extinguishing foams)
- Wastewater and water treatment workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Construction workers near wastewater or manufacturing sites
Industrial facilities, specifically those around bodies of water, are more likely to expose employees to PFAS than most other professions.
Future of PFAS
The EPA memorandum addresses anyone discharging wastewater into the waters of the United States must obtain an NPDES permit. Currently almost anyone can dump wastewater into large bodies of water in the US.
Many industries discharge wastewater to Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs), which are not designed to remove PFAS, rather than directly to rivers or creeks. Reducing the amount of PFAS that industries send to Municipal WWTPs is an important part of limiting the amount of PFAS released into the environment.
Future announcements and policy changes will be made over the coming years.
Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Resources
For more information on finding a local contractor to assist with asbestos, lead and other regulated substance information, remediation, or removal, or if you have general questions regarding environmental regulations, check the resources below:
Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Members
IECA Common Questions & Answers