First-Ever National Standard to Protect Communities from PFAS in Drinking Water Proposed

March 20, 2023
The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced it is proposing the first-ever national drinking water standard for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the latest action under President Biden’s plan to combat PFAS pollution and Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. Through this action, the EPA is taking a major step to protect public health from PFAS pollution, leveraging the latest science and complementing state efforts to limit PFAS by proposing to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS known to occur in drinking water.
This proposal builds on other key milestones to combat PFAS, including EPA’s proposal to designate two PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances; enhancing data on PFAS under EPA’s National PFAS Testing Strategy and through nationwide sampling for 29 PFAS in public drinking water systems; using EPA’s Clean Water Act permitting and regulatory programs to reduce PFAS pollution in the environment from industry; and initiating the distribution of $10 billion in funding to address emerging contaminants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
“Communities across this country have suffered far too long from the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution. That’s why President Biden launched a whole-of-government approach to aggressively confront these harmful chemicals, and EPA is leading the way forward,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposal to establish a national standard for PFAS in drinking water is informed by the best available science, and would help provide states with the guidance they need to make decisions that best protect their communities. This action has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of PFAS-related illnesses and marks a major step toward safeguarding all our communities from these dangerous contaminants.”
The proposal, if finalized, would regulate PFOA and PFOS as individual contaminants, and will regulate four other PFAS – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals – as a mixture.
  • PFOA and PFOS: EPA is proposing to regulate PFOA and PFOS at a level they can be reliably measured at 4 parts per trillion.
  • PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX Chemicals: EPA is also proposing a regulation to limit any mixture containing one or more of PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and/or GenX Chemicals. For these PFAS, water systems would use an established approach called a hazard index calculation, defined in the proposed rule, to determine if the combined levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk.
If finalized, the proposed regulation will require public water systems to monitor for these chemicals. It will also require systems to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels exceed the proposed regulatory standards. EPA anticipates that if fully implemented, the rule will, over time, prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses. This action establishes nationwide protection from PFAS pollution for all people, including environmental justice communities.
“I have long supported the implementation of a national drinking water standard to ensure that the water in our communities is clean and safe for consumption,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional PFAS Taskforce. “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction as we work to prevent the future contamination of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in our water and I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to enforce a high standard of water quality.”
"No one should ever wonder if the PFAS in their tap water will one day make them sick,” said Clean Cape Fear co-founder Emily Donovan. “We all deserve access to health-protective drinking water. It's a basic human right. We applaud the Biden EPA for having the courage to do what multiple administrations could not. Today, prayers were answered.”
The recent actions represent a significant milestone for the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitments to combat PFAS pollution and safeguard drinking water. President Biden has secured historic funding to address emerging contaminants like PFAS, including $10 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In February 2023, EPA announced the availability of $2 billion from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address emerging contaminants, including PFAS, in drinking water across the country. These funds will promote access to safe and clean water in small, rural, and disadvantaged communities while supporting local economies.
EPA requests input on the proposal from all stakeholders, including the public, water system managers, and public health professionals. Comments may be submitted through the public docket, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114, at
For more information on this proposal, please visit EPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) webpage.
Toxic Chemical Releases in 2021 Remained Below Pre-Pandemic Levels
The EPA recently released its 2021 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, which shows that environmental releases of TRI chemicals from facilities covered by the program remained below pre-pandemic levels and releases in 2021 are 10% lower than 2012 releases, even with an 8% increase from 2020 to 2021. Additionally, in 2021, facilities managed 89% of their TRI chemical waste through preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery and treatment, while reporting that they released 11% of their TRI chemical waste into the environment.
The 2021 TRI National Analysis summarizes TRI chemical waste management activities, including releases, that occurred during calendar year 2021. More than 21,000 facilities submitted reports on 531 chemicals requiring TRI reporting that they released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. EPA, states and Tribes receive TRI data from facilities in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste management.
“It’s absolutely essential that people have access to information about the chemicals being used in their communities,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “By making this information publicly available, EPA is advancing its commitment to reduce pollution and give communities tools to help them make better informed decisions to protect people and the planet.”
The 2021 Analysis features updated visualizations and analytical tools to make data more useful and accessible to communities, including the option to view data by region and watershed. EPA has also updated demographic information in the “Where You Live” mapping tool and in the Chemical Profiles section. Readers can view facility locations with overlayed demographic data to identify potential exposure to TRI chemical releases in disadvantaged communities. Community groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders can use this data, along with other environmental data, to better understand which communities may experience a disproportionate pollution burden and take action at the local level.
In addition, this year the TRI National Analysis Sector Profiles highlights the plastic products manufacturing sector alongside the standard profiles for electric utilities, chemical manufacturing, and metal mining. This allows readers to learn about releases and waste management of TRI chemicals, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, from facilities in these sectors.
EPA is holding a public webinar on March 28, 2023, to give an overview of the 2021 TRI National Analysis. Register for the webinar.
The National Analysis shows a 24% increase in the number of new pollution reduction activities facilities initiated from 2020 to 2021 — a strong rebound after the decrease seen from 2019 to 2020. These activities include facilities implementing strategies like replacing TRI chemicals with less hazardous alternatives or reducing the amount of scrap they produce. Through both existing programs and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA offers grant opportunities to state and Tribal technical assistance providers to help prevent pollution.
Industry professionals can also look at TRI reporting on pollution prevention to learn about best practices implemented at facilities.
TRI reporting also shows a 45% decrease in ethylene oxide releases from 2012 to 2021, driven by decreased air emissions. Although there was a 15% increase in releases compared to 2020, quantities of ethylene oxide released in 2021 are lower than pre-pandemic quantities from 2019. EPA also expanded reporting requirements for ethylene oxide and other chemicals to include additional facilities. Reporting from these facilities will appear for the first time in next year’s National Analyses.
For the second time, the TRI National Analysis includes reporting on perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) following the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. For Reporting Year 2021, 176 PFAS were reportable to TRI. Facilities reported managing 1.3 million pounds of these chemicals as waste. This is an increase from the 800,000 pounds in 2020 and is largely due to reporting on one PFAS, perfluorooctyl iodide, which EPA began requiring facilities to report in 2021. Most of the facilities that manage PFAS operate in the chemical manufacturing and hazardous waste management sectors. The hazardous waste management sector accounted for roughly 80% of the 108,334 pounds of PFAS released into the environment, primarily to regulated landfills.
Last December, EPA proposed a rule that would improve reporting on PFAS to TRI by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations. Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.
EPA Announces Initiative to Protect Workers from Nerve Agent Pesticides
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced an initiative project to protect workers from some extremely harmful applications of four organophosphate pesticides. EPA also updated its worker risk assessments and asked the chemical companies that manufacture the pesticides to put the necessary mitigation in place on an expeditious basis.
Mitigation could entail cancelling uses, formulations, or application methods, increasing personal protective equipment (PPE), lengthening re-entry intervals for farmworkers, and spray drift mitigation, including no-spray buffers around homes, schools, day cares, and other places people gather. EPA is asking the companies to agree to mitigation and to submit labels embodying that mitigation.
“Studies show that organophosphates indefensibly poison workers and cause learning disabilities in children. These farmworker protections are long overdue and desperately needed,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “Pesticide companies must act immediately to protect workers from the egregious harms from organophosphates, and EPA must take action to protect workers, their families, our food, and our drinking water from this entire class of pesticides.”
In 2021, Earthjustice filed a petition along with a coalition of 10 health, community, and farmworker groups asking the EPA to ban neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides, which are prevalent in our food and water, and endanger farmworkers and their families.
Earthjustice also released a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind report and data set collating 17 organophosphate human health risk assessments, as well as agricultural pesticide usage data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), documenting the location and amount of organophosphate usage in the United States, and the dangerous health effects associated with exposure. This data tool also shows what crops are sprayed, the foods that contain elevated levels of pesticide residues, and links to health risks evaluations and brief regulatory history. Read Earthjustice’s report on organophosphates.
In 2021 EPA banned all food uses of chlorpyrifos, the most well-known organophosphate pesticide, but it is only one among this toxic class of pesticides being used in agriculture.
European Agency to Evaluate Health Effects of Five Substances on Workers
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which works to implement the European Union’s chemicals legislation to protect human health and the environment, has been tasked by the European Commission to evaluate the health effects of five substances on workers. These substances include 1,3-butadiene, which OSHA says is produced through the processing of petroleum; 4,4-isopropylidenediphenol, also known as bisphenol A, and other bisphenols relevant to occupational health; compounds that release boric acid, including boric oxide; 1,2-dihydroxybenzene, or pyrocatechol; and silicon carbide fibers. According to the March 8 issue of ECHA’s weekly e-newsletter, the scientific evaluations will be carried out under the EU’s carcinogens, mutagens or reprotoxic substances directive, which covers health and safety risks related to occupational exposure to carcinogens, mutagens, or substances toxic to reproduction. ECHA projects that the evaluations will be finalized by February 2025 and that it may include proposals for occupational exposure limit values, biological limit and biological guidance values, or notations for the substances.
NIOSH describes 1,3-butadiene as a “colorless gas with a mild aromatic or gasoline-like odor.” OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for the substance is 1 part 1,3-butadiene per million parts of air measured as an eight-hour time-weighted average, and its short-term exposure limit is 5 ppm as determined over a sampling period of 15 minutes.
Bisphenol A is primarily used in making polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins, according to a NIOSH Science Blog post. A NIOSH skin notation profile of bisphenol A published in 2011 explains that the substance is “potentially capable of causing adverse health effects following skin contact” and assigns it a skin notation of SK: SEN, with critical effects including skin allergy and photoallergy. While OSHA and NIOSH have not established exposure limits for bisphenol A, NIOSH encourages employers to minimize workers’ exposure to the substance using the hierarchy of controls.
The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards entry for boric oxide states that individuals can be exposed to the substance through inhalation, ingestion, and skin or eye contact, and that symptoms of exposure include irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory system; cough; conjunctivitis; and skin redness. NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit for boric oxide is 10 mg/m3 as a TWA concentration for up to a 10-hour workday during a 40-hour work week, and the current OSHA PEL is 15 mg/m3 as an eight-hour TWA.
Pyrocatechol is a “colorless, crystalline solid with a faint odor” that will discolor to brown in air and light, according to NIOSH. OSHA has not established a PEL for pyrocatechol, but the NIOSH REL is 5 ppm, or 20 mg/m³. The substance also carries a skin notation from NIOSH of SK: SYS-DIR(IRR)-SEN due to its capability of causing “numerous adverse health effects following skin contact.” According to the agency, effects may include acute toxicity, skin irritancy, skin depigmentation, and skin allergy.
Exposure to silicon carbide, described by NIOSH and OSHA as “yellow to green to bluish-black, iridescent crystals,” may cause symptoms such as irritation of the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory system as well as cough. OSHA’s PEL for silicon carbide is 15 mg/m³ (total dust) and 5 mg/m³ (respirable fraction), whereas the NIOSH REL is 10 mg/m³ (total dust), 5 mg/m³ (respirable fraction). Fibrous forms of the substance, including whiskers, carry an ACGIH threshold limit value of 0.1 f/cc for respirable fibers and a carcinogenic classification of TLV-A2, which denotes a suspected human carcinogen.
A table on ECHA’s website summarizes the agency’s other work related to OELs.
Cal/OSHA Proposes Revisions to Lead Standards
California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, the standards-setting agency within Cal/OSHA, has proposed regulations to lower the action level and permissible exposure limit for airborne lead in construction and general industry. The agency proposes to lower the action level from 30 µg/m3 as an eight-hour time-weighted average to 2 µg/m3 as an eight-hour TWA, and to lower the PEL for lead, calculated as an eight-hour TWA, from 50 µg/m3 to 10 µg/m3. This proposal is intended to maintain employee blood lead levels (BLLs) below 10 µg/dl, the notice published by Cal/OSHA (PDF) explains. Existing regulations aim to maintain BLLs below 40 µg/dl.
Cal/OSHA also seeks to reduce exposure to lead through the oral route and to expand requirements for blood lead testing of employees who work with lead. Proposed revisions to existing requirements that address these concerns include establishing general hygiene requirements when employees are exposed to lead, rather than when they are exposed to lead above the PEL, as well as increasing the frequency of blood lead testing for employees whose BLLs are at or above 10 µg/dl, compared to existing requirements that call for testing of individuals whose BLLs are at or above 40 µg/dl. Cal/OSHA’s proposal would also require monthly blood lead testing for each worker whose airborne exposure to lead is above 500 µg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA, regardless of respirator use.
“The proposed amendments are needed to adequately protect employees who have occupational exposure to lead,” Cal/OSHA’s notice states. “[R]ecent evidence demonstrates that even at exposure levels well below those currently allowed by the existing regulations, harmful health effects can occur.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is accepting written comments on the lead proposal until 5 p.m. local time on April 20, 2023. The board will also hold a public hearing in Sacramento, California, beginning at 10 a.m. on April 20. Instructions for submitting written comments and attending the hearing via video conference, teleconference, or livestream can be found in the Cal/OSHA notice (PDF).
The text of the proposed regulation is available as a PDF. For more information, see the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board webpage on lead.
OSHA Finds Oil, Gas Waste Company Failed to Protect Workers from Dangers of Inhalation
Federal investigators found an oil and gas company employee suffered fatal exposure to hydrogen sulfide while working near a sump pit in September 2022.
OSHA issued citations to Production Waste Solutions, LLC for six serious safety and health violations after the agency found the production waste facility exposed employees to serious chemical hazards. The company is located about 175 miles east of El Paso.
At the time of the incident, the employee was skimming and suctioning out sludge water and oil byproducts from the pit. Specifically, OSHA cited the company for:
  • Exposing employees to inhalation hazards
  • Not training employees on hazards associated with hydrogen sulfide exposure
  • Failing to provide a quick body drench or eye flush station for employees in the immediate work area where corrosive materials were present
  • Not performing a hazard assessment to determine if personal protective equipment was needed
  • Failing to protect employees from fall hazards of more than 4 feet
  • Not protecting employees from contacting energized circuits
OSHA assessed $39,064 in proposed penalties, which are set by federal statute.
"Hydrogen sulfide exists in oil and gas deposits, and it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water and oil and gas wells, which is one of the reasons work in confined spaces is potentially dangerous," explained OSHA Area Director Diego Alvarado in El Paso, Texas. "This terrible loss could have been prevented if Production Waste Solutions LLC had followed established safety procedures and provided federally required training and equipment."
EPA Recognizes 15 Organizations for Certifying the Most Buildings as ENERGY STAR in 2022
The EPA has announced the names of 15 organizations that each earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification for more than 150 commercial, multifamily, and industrial buildings in 2022. In total, the top certifiers collectively certified more than 3,700 buildings representing over 800 million square feet of floor space. EPA is highlighting the organizations that are the most active certifiers in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the ENERGY STAR program. Any organization that certified five buildings or more in 2022 was eligible for special recognition as a member of the ENERGY STAR Certification Nation.
“Improving the energy efficiency of America’s buildings is essential to fighting the climate crisis,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By certifying the most ENERGY STAR buildings last year, these companies are helping lead the way to a clean energy future and are demonstrating that building efficiency isn’t just good for the climate, but also good for our economy.”
The group of top certifiers includes a diverse set of energy services companies that help their clients improve the energy performance of their buildings as well as large commercial real estate companies, a healthcare real estate capital provider, a public utility, and a regional bank holding company:
Buildings Certified as ENERGY STAR in 2022
RE Tech Advisors
Sustainable Investment Group
UL Solutions
Environmental SAVE
Maximum Energy Professionals
Cushman & Wakefield U.S., Inc.
CodeGreen Solutions Inc.
Schneider Electric
Energent Solutions
Ventas, Inc.
Consumers Energy
Huntington National Bank
To earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR, a building must first measure its energy performance using EPA’s online energy management and tracking tool, ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager®. The building then receives an ENERGY STAR score of 1-100, signifying how it performs relative to similar buildings nationwide. If the building both earns a score of 75 or higher and a professional engineer or registered architect verifies that its energy data and operating characteristics are correct and meets indoor air quality standards, EPA awards the ENERGY STAR to that building. More than 7,000 commercial, multifamily, and industrial buildings earned the ENERGY STAR for superior energy efficiency in 2022.
Energy use in commercial buildings accounts for 17% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and costs more than $100 billion per year. ENERGY STAR certified buildings are verified to perform better than 75% of similar buildings nationwide, they use an average of 35% less energy, and are responsible for 35% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than typical buildings. Many common building types can earn ENERGY STAR certification, including office buildings, multifamily housing, K-12 schools, hotels, hospitals, data centers, and retail stores.
Earning the ENERGY STAR is the simple way building owners and managers can demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility to their customers, stakeholders, and communities. More than 40,000 buildings across America have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification since 1999.
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