03 December 2020

Environmental Protection Agency Issues Interim Strategy Memorandum to Address PFAS in Federally Issued Water Permits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water has published a new interim strategy memorandum for addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued by EPA. The memorandum includes recommendations generated by a cross-agency workgroup, which conducted a review of existing Clean Water Act (CWA) section 402 NPDES permitting authorities to determine where and how currently unregulated contaminants like PFAS may fit into the permitting process. Under the CWA, the NPDES permit program regulates point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Currently, there are no CWA water quality criteria or effluent guidelines for PFAS, an umbrella category of thousands of synthetic chemicals historically used in industrial manufacturing processes for their flame-resistant and nonstick properties.

Although the workgroup’s interim strategy memorandum applies only to NPDES permits issued in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, and most U.S. territories — the only jurisdictions where EPA is the CWA permitting authority — it may also provide general guidance for state-level NPDES permit writers. Specifically, the workgroup has recommended that EPA NPDES permit writers consider incorporating permit requirements for PFAS monitoring “at facilities where PFAS are expected to be present in point source wastewater discharges … [where] because of the raw materials stored or used at the facility, products or byproducts of the facility operation, or available data and information from similar facilities, the permit writer has a strong basis for expecting that the pollutant could be present in the discharge.” The workgroup based this recommendation on the NPDES Permit Writer’s Manual, which provides guidance on how to address “pollutants otherwise expected to be present in the discharge” where neither the discharger nor the permitting authority may have been monitoring data for a particular pollutant.

The recommendation suggests a phased approach where PFAS monitoring requirements would be triggered after EPA has made available specific multilab validated PFAS analytical methods. In a separate news release, EPA announced that it is developing, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, analytical methods for 40 PFAS chemicals, which the agency expects to release sometime in 2021.

Other workgroup recommendations relate to phased-in monitoring and stormwater pollutant control when PFAS are expected to be present in stormwater discharges and permitting practices information sharing.

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