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EPA Identifies Drinking Water Contaminants for Potential Regulation

In a move that has significant implications for municipalities and water companies that offer potable water service and have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed that a group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) be included in the latest iteration of its periodic Safe Drinking Water Act list of candidates for future regulations. 

EPA on July 12 announced “Draft Contaminant Candidate List 5” (CCL 5), which provides the latest list of 66 drinking water contaminants that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and are not currently subject to EPA drinking water regulations which includes PFAS. As directed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA said its CCL 5 identifies priority contaminants to consider for potential regulation to ensure that public health is protected.

EPA will use the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to collect information from potable drinking water systems on the prevalence, occurrence and concentration of PFAS. 

The UCMR requires potable drinking water systems to collect data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water and do not have health-based standards set under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  Once the UCMR goes into effect in 2023, all public water systems serving more than 3300 people plus 800 randomly selected smaller water systems will need to begin testing for 29 PFAS chemicals. 

The immediate impact of UCMR implementation to test for PFAS chemicals is that the turnaround time for PFAS samples is typically 45 days and each water sample generally costs more than $300. 

EPA plans to consult with its Science Advisory Board (SAB) on the draft CCL 5 this fall. The agency will consider public comments and SAB feedback in developing the final CCL 5, which is expected to be published in July 2022. After a final CCL is published, the agency will undertake a separate regulatory determination process to determine whether or not to regulate contaminants from the CCL.

EPA is seeking comment on the draft CCL 5 for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which took place on July 12.

For more information, visit: https://www.epa.gov/ccl/contaminant-candidate-list-5-ccl-5.

Developing the CCL is the first step under the Safe Drinking Water Act in potentially regulating drinking water contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to publish a list of currently unregulated contaminants that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and that may require regulation.

EPA must publish a CCL every five years. The last cycle of CCL was published in November 2016.

The NPDES permit program addresses water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States. Created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit program is authorized to state governments by EPA to perform many permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects of the program.

EPA has established a non-enforceable Health Advisory Level for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion.  Should EPA adopt a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFAS chemicals, there will be added costs borne to potable drinking water treatment systems in terms of laboratory testing requirements and treatment. Starting on July 21, 2021, the American Public Power Association will host a four-part webinar series that offers utilities practical guidance on understanding the impact of PFAS to drinking water treatment systems and effective wastewater treatment technologies, risks and liabilities, and how best to communicate PFAS information to consumers.

Additional details about the webinar series are available here.