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U.S. EPA Seeks Comments On Draft Interim Recommendations For Addressing Emerging Contaminants PFOA And PFOS In Groundwater

Written by Todd W. Billmire, Bradford A. De Vore, and Richard E. Morton,
Womble Bond Dickinson

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has released its Draft Interim Recommendations for Addressing Groundwater Contaminated with Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) for public review and comment as part of the Agency’s PFAS Action Plan commitments.

EPA developed the draft recommendations based on the Agency’s current scientific understanding of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) toxicity. The recommendations are intended to provide clear and consistent guidance for federal cleanup programs, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly referred to as “Superfund”). The recommendations are also intended to aide state and tribal cleanup programs, and in carrying out other federal regulatory authorities (e.g., federal facility cleanup programs and approved state Resource Conservation and Recovery Act corrective action programs). When finalized, the recommendations will provide guidance to responsible parties as they make site-specific characterization and cleanup decisions for PFOA and PFOS.

Installations with reported DOD action on elevated levels of firefighting foam chemicals, August 2017 (Source: U.S. Government Accounting Office)

The guidance provides recommendations on:

  • Screening levels, which are used to determine if levels of contamination may warrant further investigation;
  • Preliminary remediation goals (PRGs) to inform site-specific cleanup levels for PFOA and PFOS contamination of groundwater that is a current or potential source of drinking water. PRGs are initial targets for cleanup, which may be adjusted on a site-specific basis as more information becomes available.

EPA is seeking comments on all parts of the recommendations, including the use of EPA’s Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory level of 70 ng/L or parts per trillion as the recommended PRG for groundwater, or whether higher or lower values would be supported.

The 45-day public comment period will close on June 10, 2019.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.


About the Authors

Todd W. Billmire is a skilled litigator that defends companies in environmental litigation and related administrative and regulatory matters. His clients value his thoughtful problem solving approach to complex environmental matters and his environmental consulting background.

Todd represents a variety multinational manufacturers, energy companies, utilities, and municipalities in environmental litigation and compliance matters. Todd also has counseled and represented individuals and businesses in a wide range of business litigation matters, including class action litigation, securities litigation, and corporate and commercial disputes.

Brad De Vore is the Team leader of the Environmental and Toxic Tort practice at Womble Bond Dickinson. Toxic torts and high-stakes environmental litigation involve complex legal and technical issues, and multi-million-dollar liability exposure. Such cases can create media concerns and governmental enforcement actions that transcend the individual dispute. Environmental enforcement matters also can present significant business risks, perhaps crippling or even shutting down a company.

When clients face such threats they choose Brad for his and his top-drawer team’s experience and ability to tackle even the most complicated problems. Brad has spent more than 30 years developing a leading practice that includes extensive toxic tort and environmental litigation experience for many domestic and multinational clients in sectors such as energy, chemicals, electronics, construction and real estate development.

Brad’s experience with the fate and transport of chemicals and environmental agents, and their impact on human health and the environment, has led to successful results in many toxic tort, environmental and enforcement matters.

Richard E. Morton is a recognized leader in the environmental regulatory and litigation defense practice at Womble Bond Dickinson.  When clients face multi-million dollar environmental claims and regulatory enforcement challenges they turn to Ric because of his insight, tenacity and ability to untangle even the most complicated matters. Ric counsels companies in federal and state regulatory compliance and dispute resolution. His practice focuses on environmental regulatory compliance, litigation and enforcement defense, as well as toxic tort and products liability litigation.

Ric is particularly experienced in defending clients against bet-the-company damage claims related to chemical exposure; this includes public properties such as wastewater treatment systems. This work includes defending clients in various toxic tort and class action claims for personal injury and property damage from alleged contamination by benzene, chlorinated solvents, metals, particulates, petroleum constituents and other substances.

Groundwater and PFAs: State of Knowledge and Practice

National Ground Water Association (NGWA) Press, Westerville, OH. ISBN: 1-56034-037-1, 114 pp, 2017

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a group of chemicals that are emerging contaminants of concern due to their persistence in the environment, bioaccumulative potential, and toxicity.

Chemical structure of perfluorooctanoic acid

PFASs have previously been used in a range of industrial processes, consumer products (such as 3M’s Scotchgard fabric and upholstery protector), aviation hydraulic fluid and fire-fighting foam. The two main PFASs are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The unique properties of PFASs that make them useful in products and industrial processes also mean that they are persistent in the environment and highly mobile. They are therefore challenging to manage and remediate once released into the environment. They are potentially bioaccumulative and potential health effects may include developmental, reproductive and systemic effects and possibly cancer. PFOS has been listed as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) in Annex B of the Stockholm Convention since 2010. The use of PFOS in products has been phased out in Australia since the early 2000’s.

Beginning in October 2016, 37 scientists and engineers voluntarily collaborated through the National Ground Water Association to develop information on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) for the broader groundwater community. Using a consensus-driven process that included a public comment period, their efforts were completed toward the end of 2017.  NGWA published this PFAS document to assist members and other groundwater professionals who may be tasked with investigating the transport pathways and extent of PFASs in groundwater and surface water, assessing potential risks to receptors, or designing and constructing engineering controls to manage subsurface PFAS contamination.  The main purpose of this document is to summarize the current state of knowledge and practice regarding PFAS fate, transport, remediation, and treatment, recognizing that knowledge in this field continues to advance. This document also summarizes current technologies, methods, and field procedures being used to characterize sites and test remediation and treatment technologies. Temporarily available at http://www.ngwa.org/Professional-Resources/Pages/Groundwater-and-PFAS.aspx

PFAs can be used in fire fighting foams