ATLANTA (July 29, 2020) — On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the progress it has made in aggressively addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the national level as it implements the PFAS Action Plan — the most comprehensive cross-agency plan ever to address an emerging chemical of concern. Just as important as this progress at the federal level, EPA Region 4 has formed partnerships with states, tribes and local communities to address local PFAS challenges across the Southeast.
“With federal technical assistance efforts underway across the country, the Trump Administration is bringing much needed support to state, tribal, and local governments as part of the agency’s unprecedented efforts under the PFAS Action Plan,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These partnerships allow for collaboration, encourage cutting edge research, and information sharing—ensuring that our joint efforts are effective and protective of public health.”
“PFAS is a priority for EPA both nationally and across the Southeast,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. “From grants, to technical assistance and research, to enforcement – EPA Region 4 is proud to support and partner with states, tribes and local communities to address the myriad of challenges that these emerging contaminants pose.”
Addressing PFAS in Drinking Water
EPA Region 4 continues to provide technical assistance to states to detect and remove PFAS in drinking water. This includes assisting the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina in addressing instances of elevated levels of PFAS found in some drinking water systems and/or private wells. EPA has assisted several states and local water departments in evaluating drinking water treatment options, including Summerville Public Works and Utilities in Georgia and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in North Carolina.
In addition, EPA has invested $984,000 in Public Water System Supervision (PWSS) supplemental grants across the eight Southeastern states and one tribal organization to support drinking water protection efforts related to PFAS and other emerging contaminants. Projects range from sampling freshwater sources and drinking water systems, especially those near known or suspected sources of PFAS, to purchasing equipment. This includes sampling of over 280 drinking water systems in Alabama and 114 drinking water systems in Georgia for PFAS and other emerging contaminants.
EPA Region 4’s laboratory, based in Athens, routinely helps states – including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – in collecting and analyzing PFAS samples. Further, regional laboratory staff are working with experts throughout the agency to develop better ways to test for PFAS in water samples. This work is a priority for EPA and the team is on track to make a new method, EPA Method 8327, available to utilities, labs and the public by Sept. 30, 2020.
Identifying and Cleaning up PFAS Contamination
Besides EPA Region 4’s extensive work to address PFAS in drinking water, the region also works with state and federal partners to investigate and address areas with suspected PFAS contamination across the Southeast. These joint projects allow EPA to take the knowledge of its world class scientists and apply it in a collaborative fashion where it counts most. Examples of technical assistance EPA Region 4 has provided to states and localities include:
- Weiss Lake (Ala.): Collaborated with Alabama and Georgia to study PFAS levels in Alabama’s Weiss Lake and streams that flow into the lake. This research adds to a growing body of scientific information about the fate and transport of PFAS in river systems and can help inform future decision-making to address PFAS in Lake Weiss.
- Federal Facilities (Florida): Together with our federal partners, EPA is working to address possible PFAS contamination at federal facilities across the country. In Region 4, EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) have assisted the Navy in addressing PFAS at two Naval Air Stations (NAS) in Jacksonville, Fla. At NAS Cecil Field, EPA Region 4 helped identify PFAS contamination in an area requiring dewatering near a new air traffic control tower. The water was treated before being discharged to land, thereby preventing potential contamination of surface soil. At NAS Jacksonville, EPA supported the Navy’s efforts to sample private wells and educate well owners near an area where firefighting foam containing PFAS was historically used. A total of 19 wells were sampled in 2018 and all were below EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion.
- Florida: Improving laboratory capacity is among the many ways EPA supports states in addressing PFAS. EPA Region 4 assisted FDEP in identifying appropriate test methods for PFAS in biosolids. EPA Region 4 currently analyzes soils by ASTM method D7968-17a: Determination of Polyfluorinated Compounds in Soil by Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS/MS).
- Cape Fear River (N.C.): At the request of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), EPA conducted independent laboratory analyses of thousands of water samples collected by NCDEQ at locations in the Cape Fear River to identify the presence and concentration of multiple PFAS chemicals. This included samples of the Chemours outfall, surface water along the Cape Fear River and finished drinking water. This helped inform NCDEQ’s no discharge limitation order, as well as decisions made by drinking water systems along the Cape Fear.
- Fayetteville (N.C.): To address concerns about PFAS from the Chemours facility in Fayetteville, N.C., EPA collaborated with the state of North Carolina to determine the nature and extent of contamination, understand the toxicology and mitigate risks. This included work to support the state’s establishment of a health advisory level for GenX in water. NCDEQ and EPA have worked to understand and reduce PFAS releases from the facility and limit exposure. In addition, EPA supported the development of a protocol for stack sampling for PFAS at the facility and continues to coordinate with NCDEQ to better understand the potentially wider range of PFAS chemicals in facility air emissions.
EPA has — and will continue to — take enforcement action against entities that violate federal environmental laws and regulations pertaining to PFAS. For example, EPA Region 4 has provided technical assistance to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and NCDEQ to support the issuance of enforcement orders at 3M in Decatur, Ala., and Chemours in Fayetteville, N.C., respectively. Working closely with EPA’s Office of Research and Development, EPA Region 4 provided analytical support to both ADEM and NCDEQ in the areas of PFAS method development and evaluation of treatment technologies to remove PFAS from drinking water. Both administrative orders require significant actions to reduce PFAS contamination associated with these facilities.
What is PFAS?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. PFAS are found in a wide array of consumer and industrial products. PFAS manufacturing and processing facilities, facilities using PFAS in production of other products, airports, and military installations are some of the contributors of PFAS releases into the air, soil, and water. Due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS. There is evidence that continued exposure above specific levels to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health effects.
Background on the PFAS Action Plan
As part of EPA’s aggressive efforts to address these risks, the agency issued the PFAS Action Plan in February 2019. The Action Plan is the agency’s first multi-media, multi-program, national research, management, and risk communication plan to address a challenge like PFAS. The plan responds to the extensive public input the agency received during the PFAS National Leadership Summit, multiple community engagements and through the public docket. The PFAS Action Plan outlines the processes and tools EPA is using to develop to assess the PFAS risk and assist states, tribes and communities in addressing their unique situations.