State Seeks Additional Science Before Regulating PFAS as a Class in Public Drinking Water

 

April 12, 2021 – In 2019, the Vermont General Assembly passed Act 21, which, among other actions to protect Vermonters from the impacts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), directed the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to complete a comprehensive analysis to assess the feasibility of regulating PFAS as a class in public water systems. Regulating PFAS as a class would help protect Vermonters and provide greater regulatory certainty for municipalities and businesses. Following a multi-Agency review, DEC has concluded it is not feasible to regulate PFAS as a class at this time. The Department will continue regulating PFAS in public drinking water using current state standards. Vermont has partnered with the other five New England states to urge new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Michael Regan to work with states to advance the science needed to regulate PFAS as a class.

Thousands of PFAS compounds have been produced in the last 90 years. Unfortunately, the toxicity data necessary to create regulatory standards do not exist for many PFAS compounds in commercial use today. Vermont currently has confidence in the toxicological data to support regulating five PFAS compounds. It would be rare for a state to develop standards for a broad class of chemicals. The U.S. EPA has traditionally conducted that work to the protection benefit of all Americans. 

In 2019, DEC began a comprehensive analysis to determine whether it would be feasible to regulate PFAS as a class in Vermont. DEC looked at laboratory methods for identifying different PFAS chemicals at different levels than the current methods can report, available health effect information, and treatment options to support regulation of PFAS as a broader class of chemicals. After conducting this research, DEC published an initial decision in August 2020 stating the results and the reasons why it would not be possible to regulate PFAS as a class in Vermont.

The DEC asked the public to review the analysis and provide feedback on the initial decision. The Department received 23 comments and included each comment, along with a response, in the appendix of the Notice of Final Decision on the Regulation of PFAS as a Class.                         

The Notice of Final Decision outlines four main challenges that need to be addressed before Vermont can expand its regulation of PFAS in drinking water. The main challenges for adoption are:

  1. Inadequate toxicological research: The primary technical barrier to regulating PFAS as a class is the lack of comprehensive comparative or relative toxicological information for PFAS compounds. This critical information is needed to create a framework for developing a class-based regulatory standard. Without this toxicological data, the state cannot develop regulatory standards for the entire group of PFAS chemicals.
  2. Insufficient analytical methods: It is not possible to quantify all PFAS in drinking water comprehensively or reliably. While there may be as many as 9,000 PFAS compounds in existence, current laboratory methods can only reliably identify around 30 compounds.
  3. Treatment options would present new health risks: The treatment options available to remove PFAS from drinking water present another set of health risks, including increased corrosivity.
  4. Lack of regional and national coordination: Developing the scientific information to support a class-based approach is resource intensive and beyond the capacity of the individual states. Vermont has joined other New England states in a coordinated call for federal action to address PFAS concerns, including evaluation of regulating as a class.

In addition to the four main challenges identified above, installing treatment technologies would cost public drinking water systems between tens of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars for each system. With the limited state funding currently available, user rates would need to increase considerably to pay for this ongoing treatment.

While DEC is unable to regulate PFAS as a class or larger subclass, DEC is taking additional steps to protect the public.  DEC will continue to work in close coordination with the Vermont Department of Health to regularly review scientific research for new findings that could make it possible to revise current regulations to include additional compounds or regulate legal limits at a different level. DEC will also continue working with the five New England states committed to partnering with the U.S. EPA to develop the necessary scientific and technical basis to regulate PFAS as a class.

The State of Vermont has taken numerous steps to protect the public from impacts associated with PFAS in the environment, as outlined in the State’s PFAS Roadmap. This includes sampling for PFAS in drinking water, soils, waste, and crops. The State requires public drinking water systems to test for PFAS. This testing helps protect users. Testing also helps DEC determine where PFAS occurs in the state and initiate investigations to identify the sources of contamination. DEC is also working to identify and reduce PFAS in the wastewater treatment process and recently launched PFAS pollution prevention project with businesses in the metal finishing and aerospace sectors.

To learn more about the State of Vermont’s work to investigate and clean up PFAS contamination, please visit our website and read Vermont’s PFAS Roadmap.