Begin Main Content Area

DEP Involvement

Program Involvement

DEP is committed to devoting the appropriate programs to sites as needed. The Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, and Hazardous Sites Cleanup programs will coordinate efforts to protect the residents of the Commonwealth.

Safe Drinking Water

The Safe Drinking Water Program is charged with managing the federally delegated drinking water program and implements both the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act and associated regulations. This program oversees permits, compliance, and operations as they pertain to public water systems across the Commonwealth, and works to take wells offline when concentrations of PFCs are found to exceed the HA.

Clean Water Program

The Clean Water Program is responsible for protecting and preserving the waters of the Commonwealth. This program primarily focuses on requiring, and ensuring the effectiveness of, treatment systems that discharge to surface and ground water.

Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program (HSCA)

The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program administers the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act of 1988 (HSCA), which provides DEP with the funding and authority to conduct cleanup actions and investigations to determine the extent of contamination and search for a solution. It is through this program that private wells in areas where concentrations of PFCs have exceeded the HA are sampled and analyzed, and alternative drinking water supplies provided when those private wells have contained concentrations of PFCs that exceed the HA.

Waste Management

The Bureau of Waste Management (BWM) manages the permitting and inspection of hazardous, municipal, and residual waste generation, transportation, storage, beneficial use and disposal facilities and administration of the municipal solid waste planning program, recycling program, resource recovery development program, and household hazardous waste program. Through researching and establishing viable disposal options, BWM will curb the PFAS pollution cycle by appropriately directing soil containing PFAS through the proper channels for disposal, which will curb the cycle and prevent further environmental harm.

PFAS cycle.jpg

Cleanup Standards

Products containing long-chain PFAS chemicals leach into the soil and water where they continue to be mobile, highly persistent, and bioaccumulative. It is crucial to remove contaminants from the soil before they migrate into water sources. To achieve this, DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields drafted new proposed regulatory cleanup standards for soil and groundwater for three compounds in the PFAS family – Perfluorobutane Sulfonate (PFBS), Perflurooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). This proposed regulation was adopted by the Environmental Quality Board, DEP’s rulemaking body, on November 19, 2019.

Drinking Water Health Advisories in Pennsylvania

On May 19, 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established health advisories for PFOA and PFOS.

Health advisories (HA) provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. EPA's health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health efforts resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.

To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, EPA has established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS should not exceed the 70 ppt HA.

Under authority of the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act and regulations, DEP has the authority to require corrective actions on a case-by-case basis for a public water system in which an unregulated contaminant is present and creates a risk to public health. As per long-standing protocol, DEP utilizes EPA's HAs to determine risk to public health.

At this time, DEP does not intend to deviate from the health advisories EPA has established for PFOA and PFOS. More information on setting a state MCL can be found here.

Statewide PFAS Sampling Plan

DEP has announced a plan to sample public water supplies that have elevated potential for contamination, based on proximity to common sources of PFAS, such as military bases, fire training sites, landfills, and manufacturing facilities. The sampling plan will begin collecting information in May 2019, and the first planned phase will last approximately one year.

State MCL Considerations

Currently, there is no state or federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a health advisory (HA) for PFOA and PFOS in May of 2016 based on the agency's assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science. According to EPA, the lifetime HA for PFOA and PFOS of 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt) is protective of all consumers, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water. 

HAs are non-enforceable and non-regulatory. Pennsylvania can set an MCL for unregulated contaminants such as PFOA and PFOS. As per the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is authorized to adopt MCLs or treatment technique requirements, even in situations where a federal standard has not been set. In order for the EQB to consider adoption of a state MCL, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would need to provide the necessary science, data, studies, cost to benefit analysis, and justification to support such a proposed MCL. This supporting data is required by Pennsylvania's regulatory review process. This data would also be necessary for DEP to be able to defend and enforce the state MCL in a court of law.

DEP will need to complete the following steps prior to initiating proposed rulemaking to set an MCL:

  • Determine whether the proposed MCL is technically feasible.
    • Research and approve treatment technologies to adequately and consistently remove PFOA/PFOS to levels below the proposed MCL. DEP would also need to work with third-party certification organizations such as NSF International to develop a program for certifying treatment systems for efficacy – something that is required by regulation.
    • Determine any simultaneous compliance concerns or unintended consequences with the Safe Drinking Water regulations or other laws of this Commonwealth.
    • Ensure sufficient lab capacity and capability and maintain a state lab accreditation program for PFOA/PFOS. Labs must be able to achieve detection and reporting limits that are below the proposed MCL.
  • Conduct a cost to benefit analysis to support a statewide standard. A state MCL would apply to all PWSs. All systems would be required to conduct routine compliance monitoring. And if levels were found above a state MCL, the system would be required to take any and all actions needed to return to compliance. These potential compliance costs would need to be quantified.
  • Develop the necessary justification for proposing a standard that is more stringent than EPA.

Provided the above steps were satisfactorily completed, DEP could then initiate the proposed rulemaking process. The rulemaking process typically takes approximately two years to promulgate a final rule.