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.
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.
Lessons from the Network
- Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) white paper: Processes and considerations for setting state PFAS standards
- Environmental Working Group interactive map of PFAS contamination sites
- Green Latinos’ “Forever toxic chemicals” in our water: PFAS response toolkit
- Leighton Paisner, B.C. (2021). State-by-state regulation of PFAS substances in drinking water.
- Moyer, M. (2021). ”Forever Chemicals”: PFAS Contamination and Public Health. Penn State Law Review.
- Safer States PFAS Policy Tracker (Includes adopted and pending legislation)
- Silent Spring Institute’s PFAS Exchange (Shows a map of contaminated sites and where organization are working for health and environmental protections)
- EPA’s compilation of US State Resources about PFAS
- EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap for 2021-2024
- Wisconsin established a PFAS data tracker