EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year

The Trump administration on Thursday said it will issue a draft regulation placing a limit on a cancer-causing chemical frequently found in drinking water by the end of the year, but provided no details on the level of protection it would seek.

The new steps to eventually regulate the the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “PFAS" or "PFOA" are being announced by Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler in Pennsylvania.

He called it the “most comprehensive cross-agency plan to address an emerging chemical of concern ever undertaken by EPA.”

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“For the first time in Agency history, we utilized all of our program offices to construct an all-encompassing plan to help states and local communities address PFAS and protect our nation’s drinking water,” Wheeler said in a statement. “We are moving forward with several important actions, including the maximum contaminant level process, that will help affected communities better monitor, detect, and address PFAS.”

The United States currently sets a health advisory for water for PFAS of 70 parts per trillion in water, a number many experts say does not accurately represent its hazards.

EPA data collection found that 1.3 percent of all public water systems had detections of PFAS at or above the nation’s health advisory level, according to officials.

David Ross, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, said the EPA will propose a regulatory determination by the end of the year.

That draft suggestion will jumpstart a months to years long public comment period that could push the formalization of any PFAS standard far down the line.

The EPA last year, under former administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE, began its process of determining next steps to regulate PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act with a national summit at EPA headquarters.

A top Democrat criticized the EPA’s announcement as doing too little coming too late.

“Nearly a year ago, then-Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would decide on whether to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS as part of its PFAS Action Plan. The PFAS Action Plan being trumpeted by EPA today is insufficiently protective, and it explains why Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler would not commit to setting a drinking water standard for PFAS during his nomination hearing last month,” Senator Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards MORE (D-Dela.) said in a statement.

“While EPA acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe,” Carper added.

Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said Thursday's announcement would allow for more contamination.

“This so-called plan is actually a recipe for more PFAS contamination, not less,” Faber said in a statement. “It’s shameful that the EPA has taken two decades to produce a plan that allows increased exposure to compounds whose makers have used the American people as guinea pigs and, with the EPA’s complicity, covered it up.”

Politico first reported in January that EPA’s announcement would not include any plan to set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for PFAS, setting off alarms that the agency was ignoring public pleas to better regulate the substance.

EPA officials on Thursday, however, pushed back on that characterization, saying the agency was committed to issuing regulations.

Other steps outlined Thursday included the initiation of a regulatory process to list PFOA and PFAS under the superfund statute and a promise that EPA will “very soon” release interim groundwater clean-up recommendations for sites found to be contaminated with PFAS.

Wheeler in an interview to ABC News on Wednesday pushed back on criticism that the agency is slowing down its regulations.

“We haven't slowed down, we've actually speeded up the process. We're continuing research for example, we want to make sure we have the best clean up technologies — that we understand better the health impacts on people and that we can move forward,” he said.

This story has been updated 9:52 a.m.