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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. While we continually review new evidence as it emerges, DEP does not plan to deviate from the HA value at this time.
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. However, 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 (for being more stringent than EPA) 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.
While Pennsylvania has the authority to set state MCLs, DEP is not in a position to move forward with setting a state MCL at this time. In the 32-year history of the Pennsylvania SDWA, DEP has never adopted a state MCL. There are two reasons for this: (1) there has never been a documented need to set a state MCL, and (2) if a need were identified, there are tremendous challenges with setting a state MCL. The challenges include the following:
- Lack of state funding and resources to set standards: States like California that routinely set their own standards have entire programs and budgets dedicated to determining the need for and setting state standards. California spends about $26 million annually on their MCL development program. Safe Drinking Water Program staffing levels in Pennsylvania are down by 25% since 2009 and there are significant challenges in meeting the state's current regulatory and primacy obligations. In addition, federal grants could not be used to set, implement or enforce a state-only drinking water standard. This funding would have to be provided from the general fund.
- Lack of occurrence data to determine whether PFOA/PFOS are a statewide problem: Pennsylvania has approximately 8,600 Public Water Systems (PWS). As per the federal rule, only 175 (2%) PWSs in Pennsylvania were required to monitor under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) 3. Of these 175 PWSs, only six (6) PWSs had detects. DEP would need to obtain additional occurrence data (using a statically significant number of PWSs) in order to support a statewide MCL. And since DEP lacks the regulatory authority to require large numbers of PWSs to monitor for unregulated contaminants, DEP would need to secure the necessary funding and conduct this monitoring in-house. Provided the necessary funding and resources were secured, monitoring would need to be conducted on a quarterly basis for at least a year.
- Lack of resources and expertise to develop the necessary science in support of a state MCL: MCLs are legally enforceable standards. DEP would need to conduct the necessary research and present sound science in support of a proposed MCL. EPA's HA would be a good starting point. However, DEP does not currently employ toxicologists. Toxicologists would be needed to develop the necessary science and testify in court should the state MCL be challenged.
Provided the necessary funding and resources were made available, the occurrence data supported a statewide MCL, and DEP's science and conclusions supported a lower HA level, DEP would still need to complete the following steps prior to initiating proposed rulemaking:
- 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.
Finally, it is unrealistic to expect that MCLs can be set at zero or non-detected (ND). None of the current 90-plus MCLs are set at zero or ND. While an MCLG (goal) may be set at zero or close to zero, MCLs must be set as described above, and must be based on real-world limitations in treatment technologies to treat to very low levels, limitations in analytical methods to accurately detect the contaminant, simultaneous compliance with other safe drinking water regulations (risk-risk trade-off) and cost versus benefit (risk reduction).
Until such time as EPA moves forward with an enforceable standard, or DEP obtains the necessary funding, resources, and expertise to move forward with a state standard, DEP will continue to respond to cases of PFOA/PFOS contamination using existing authorities, tools, and protocols. DEP continues to believe that EPA's HA is protective of public health and that everything that can be done is being done to respond to these unregulated contaminants.