State Action on Regulating PFAS

What’s the Issue?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). These chemicals are used in non-stick cookware, firefighting foam and many other common products. Often referred to as “forever chemicals” as they do not breakdown easily and can accumulate over time, PFAS enter humans through food, water, and air. An estimated 200 million Americans drink water that has been contaminated with PFAS, and recent sampling by Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests that exposure to PFAS may be much higher.

There are currently no enforceable federal regulations for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2022 the Environmental Protection Agency issued interim Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory Levels of 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOS and 0.02 ppt for PFOS. EPA also issued new final health advisories for GenX chemicals (10 ppt) and PFBS (2,000 ppt). Health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, but are meant to indicate levels at which contaminants can cause negative human health effects. In March 2023, EPA announced proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six PFAS – PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, GenX chemicals, PFHxS, and PFBS. The regulation will likely be finalized by the end of 2023, establishing Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) that are legally enforceable to protect drinking water quality. Through this regulation, public water systems will monitor for the 6 PFAS, reduce PFAS in drinking levels if above the proposed standards, and must notify the public of PFAS levels.

Protecting Against PFAS at the State Level

Policies regarding PFAS regulation are becoming increasing prevalent at the state level, with 192 current policies in 29 states and 72 adopted policies in 21 states according to Safer States. A Penn State Law Review study conducted in 2021 suggests that legislative and administrative actions of New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire are the strongest state level efforts in addressing PFAS contamination. Policies that specifically address PFAS in drinking water include enforceable drinking water standards (MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, VT, and ME) and proposed standards (AZ, IA, KY, and RI). Numerous states have adopted guidance and/or notification levels for PFAS in drinking water and others have passed legislation to reduce the presence of PFAS from the source, banning products such as firefighting foam and packaging containing PFAS. Maine became the first state to pass legislation in 2021 banning sales of products containing PFAS, except for unavoidable use, which goes into effect in 2030.

Examples of State Policy

  • New Jersey was the first state to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for any kind of PFAS. Amendments to the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act rules apply to public community and public non-community water systems. PFOA maximum contaminant level (MCL) is set at 14 ppt and 13 ppt for PFOS in drinking water. Treatment for emerging contaminants is now a priority for State funding, and water systems may access low interest loans through the New Jersey Water Bank to offset costs for compliance.
  • Michigan’s PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) consists of officials from 10 different state departments. MPART researches sources and locations of PFAS contamination to protect drinking water and alert the public of high levels of PFAS. MPART was permanently established through Executive Order 2019-3 by Governor Whitmer in 2019. In 2020, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) adopted a ruleset limiting seven PFAS chemicals in drinking water. The levels are set at 6 ppt for PFNA, 8 ppt for PFOA, and 16 ppt for PFOS. The Great Lakes PFAS Action Network (GLPAN), a coalition of impacted communities and environmental and conservation organizations developed a policy agenda of administrative and legislative actions to take.
  • New Hampshire’s 2020 House Bill 1264 set the maximum contaminant levels for certain perfluorochemicals in drinking water, established a PFAS fund and programs and made an appropriation requiring insurance coverage for PFAS and PFC blood tests, and expanded the statute governing ambient groundwater quality standards.
A map of the US showing which states have drinking water limits for PFAS.
Image used with permission from Safer States.
White text on a blue background says "Join us! 1/17, 1 PM ET/10 AM PT, State Policy Showcase: PFAS in pollution discharge permits." Below the text is an image of an snowy wet road with ah firetruck behind a fence in a grassy field.

Watch a State Policy Showcase on how North Carolina is requiring polluters to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination through permitting, along with more resources on PFAS.


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