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The Division of Drinking Water (DDW) Lowers PFAS Notification and Response Levels

Tue Jul 30th, On Environmental Law, by

Considerable measures have been taken to minimize the public’s exposure to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two chemicals categorized into a larger group known as Per – Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  With everyday items – such as food packaging, fire-fighting foam, stain- and water-repellant fabrics in some carpeting and clothing, non-stick pans, among others – laced with these chemicals, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has carefully studied the harmful effects these substances may cause.  It has been disclosed that exposure to these chemicals at certain levels may result in fetal developmental issues, cancer, and various other adverse health effects.  Due to the potential risk, health guidelines have been established.  With drinking water becoming a primary concern, EPA announced a lifetime health advisory for PFAS in drinking water in May 2016.  This mandates a PFAS warning to consumers if contaminants exceeded the levels over 70 parts per trillion in the community drinking water supply.

States have also begun regulating PFAS; many, including California, have imposed more strict guidelines.  For example, on June 26, 2018, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recommended the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) to determine notification levels for PFOA based on liver toxicity risks and PFOS based on immunotoxicity.  As a result, DDW set the notification levels in California extremely low: at 14 parts per trillion and 13 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, respectively.  In early July 2019, DDW informally announced to water manufacturers that it intended drop the notification levels even further, starting on July 8: to 5.1 parts per trillion for PFOA and 13 parts per trillion for PFOS.

In cases where the concentration of contaminants surpass the amount specified by the notification levels, a response level is applied.  The response level in California was originally set at the EPA notification level: 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined.  DDW’s early-July notification to water manufacturers, however, disclosed that it intended to lower the response level to 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and 40 parts per trillion for PFOS, starting July 8.

Despite DDW’s early-July “informal” announcement of its intent to lower the notification and response level for PFOA and PFOS by July 8, no formal announcement has yet been released; and such lowering of levels has not yet been implemented.  At least one entity sent in comments objecting to DDW’s intent to lowering the notification and response levels[  as such an action would allegedly have “unintended consequences”—e.g., “Water systems would … be compelled to remove numerous wells – at least 30% or more for many impacted water systems – that, notwithstanding PFOA and PFOS, are in compliance of existing drinking water regulations.”

The California Environmental Attorneys at Bick Law LLP will continue to monitor the Division of Drinking Water’s potential changes to PFAS notification and response levels.

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