PFAS Chemicals and the EPA’s Plan

Trey Glenn, EPA Region 4 Administrator, recently penned an article expressing EPA’s concerns about a class of “emerging contaminants” that are showing up in aquifers and surface waters across the nation.  He stated that “protecting America’s drinking water is a top priority for EPA and that’s why we are coming together with state and local partners in North Carolina to gather input about a group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)”.

What are PFAS and what are the concerns?

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals and both chemicals have the tendency to accumulate in the human body over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:

  • low infant birth weights,
  • effects on the immune system,
  • cancer (for PFOA), and
  • thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).

What is EPA doing about it?

  • EPA will initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) in drinking water for two PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS).
  • EPA is beginning the necessary steps to propose designating PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act Section 102.
  • EPA will develop groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites and will complete this task by fall of this year.
  • EPA is taking action in close collaboration with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS by this summer.

Given the high-profile US drinking water issues in recent years, the EPA appears to be moving quickly in an effort to understand this complex situation and identify necessary measures to address possible PFAS contamination, stay tuned…..

Additional Information

EPA website on PFAS –


Contributed by Isaac Smith, Environmental Compliance Manager