EPA Announces Three Water Commitments in the Agency's PFAS Strategic Roadmap

May 02, 2022
The EPA recently announced three actions to protect communities and the environment from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in our nation’s waters. The actions announced advance progress under the Biden-⁠Harris Administration’s Plan to Combat PFAS Pollution by improving methods to detect PFAS in water, reducing PFAS discharges into our nation’s waters, and protecting fish and aquatic ecosystems from PFAS. These efforts complement the historic investment of $10 billion to address PFAS and emerging contaminants secured under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“EPA is using all available tools to address PFAS contamination as part of a broader, whole of government effort to protect communities across the country from these chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This is why we put a Strategic Roadmap in place, and why President Biden fought for billions in funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to tackle this challenge. Today’s actions help protect the health of all Americans as we deliver on our commitment to research, restrict, and remediate PFAS.”
A New Testing Method Will Help Detect PFAS in Water
Robust, accurate methods for detecting and measuring PFAS in air, land, and water are essential for understanding which PFAS are in the environment and how much are present. Detection methods are also essential for evaluating the effectiveness of different technologies for remediating PFAS and for implementing future regulations.
EPA is publishing a new method that can broadly screen for the presence of PFAS in water at the part per billion level. EPA’s new Screening Method for the Determination of Adsorbable Organic Fluorine (AOF) in Aqueous Matrices by Combustion Ion Chromatography (CIC) provides an aggregate measurement of chemical substances that contain carbon-fluorine bonds. PFAS are a common source of organofluorines in wastewater. This new method is especially useful for understanding the presence and forms of PFAS in wastewater when used in conjunction with methods that target individual PFAS. EPA’s Draft Method 1621 has successfully completed single laboratory validation. Multi-laboratory validation will take place this summer and EPA intends to publish an updated version of the method later this year.
New Permitting Direction Will help Reduce Discharges of PFAS to our Waters
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program interfaces with many pathways by which PFAS travel and are released into the environment and ultimately impact people and water quality. EPA is seeking to proactively use existing NPDES authorities to reduce discharges of PFAS at the source and obtain more comprehensive information through monitoring on sources of PFAS.
EPA recently issued a memo titled, Addressing PFAS Discharges in EPA-Issued NPDES Permits and Expectations Where EPA is the Pretreatment Control Authority. This memo provides instructions for monitoring provisions, analytical methods, the use of pollution prevention, and best management practices to address discharges of PFAS. These provisions will help reduce PFAS pollution in surface water as the agency aggressively embarks to promulgate effluent guidelines, multi-validated analytical methods, and water quality criteria recommendations that address PFAS compounds. EPA also plans to issue new guidance to state permitting authorities to address PFAS in NPDES permits in a future action.
New Protective Levels Will Help Support Healthy Fish and Aquatic Ecosystems
EPA is also developing national recommended ambient water quality criteria for PFAS to protect aquatic life. States and Tribes may use EPA-recommended water quality criteria to develop water quality standards that protect and restore waters, issue permits to address PFAS discharges, and assess the impact of PFAS pollution on local communities and the environment.
EPA is proposing the first Clean Water Act aquatic life criteria for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—two of the most well-studied chemicals in this group. The criteria are intended to protect aquatic life in the United States from short-term and long-term toxic effects of PFOA and PFOS. Following the comment period, EPA intends to issue final PFOA and PFOS recommended criteria, considering public comments and any new toxicity data. States and Tribes may consider adopting the final criteria into their water quality standards or can adopt other scientifically defensible criteria that are based on local or site-specific conditions.
U.S. Department of Labor Marked Workers Memorial Day, Remembering Lives Lost
Each year, the families and friends of fallen workers, and organizations, including the U.S. Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration sadly observe April 28 as Workers Memorial Day.
On average, 13 workers die as a result of workplace injuries every day in the U.S. While far fewer than before the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 laid the foundation to better protect worker safety and health, the nation continues to confront the enormous challenge of making sure every worker ends their shift safely.
In communities across the nation, the people these workers left behind come together to remember them and raise their voices in the hope that – by helping others understand the nature and impact of their tragic losses – the hard work of preventing others from sharing their pain can be done. 
To mark the observance, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh joined with OSHA and some of those scarred by workplace tragedies at the department’s headquarters in Washington on April 28 for an online national Workers Memorial Day.
“Workers Memorial Day allows us to remember those whose lives were claimed by their jobs, in too many instances, because required safety precautions were not taken to prevent tragedy,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “Every year, thousands of workers are unable to return home to their families and their communities because workplace safety and health were overlooked. We must never underestimate the importance of ensuring OSHA requirements are met and followed as the law requires. As we are sadly reminded again, peoples’ lives depend on it.”
The event included remarks from the following guests:
  • Jesse Stolzenfels, a coal miner at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, where an explosion and collapse claimed the lives of his 12 co-workers in 2006
  • Rena Harrington, whose son was fatally injured in 2018 at a Massachusetts construction site
  • Alejandro Zuniga, an advocate with the Houston-based Faith and Justice Worker Center, who will discuss workers’ rights and the impact of worker fatalities on their families and communities
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education and assistance to employers as well as to workers directly. 
Oregon DEQ Issued 9 Penalties in March for Environmental Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued nine penalties totaling $182,840 in March for various environmental violations. A detailed list of violations and resulting penalties is at https://ordeq.org/enforcement.
Fines ranged from $987 to $83,055. Alleged violations included property owners operating a landfill without the required permit, a rock quarry causing pollution to the McKenzie River, and gas stations failing to properly monitor their underground fuel tanks.
DEQ issued civil penalties to the following organizations:
  • Airpark, $8,000, Scappoose, water quality
  • Betty Gaustad, dba Covered Bridge BP, $8,991, Sunny Valley, underground fuel tanks
  • Coburg Road Quarry, LLC, $83,055, Eugene, water quality
  • CSD Tigard Station, LLC, $987, Tigard, underground fuel tanks
  • David, James and Nancy Scott, $24,000, Grants Pass, solid waste
  • Fitzpatrick Painting Incorporated, $17,200, Albany, hazardous waste
  • Georgia-Pacific Consumer Operations LLC, $10,907, Clatskanie, air quality
  • Riverbend Landfill, $17,400, McMinnville, solid waste
  • Tidewater Contractors, Inc., $12,300, Gold Beach, stormwater
Organizations or individuals must either pay the fines or file an appeal within 20 days of receiving notice of the penalty. They may be able to offset a portion of a penalty by funding a supplemental environmental project that improves Oregon’s environment.
Penalties may also include orders requiring specific tasks to prevent ongoing violations or additional environmental harm.
DEQ works with thousands of organizations and individuals to help them comply with laws that protect Oregon’s air, land and water. DEQ uses education, technical assistance, warnings and penalties to change behavior and deter future violations.
Second Report on Sampling Maryland Public Drinking Water Systems for PFAS Issued
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has released the results of the second phase of the agency’s sampling of public drinking water systems for a class of chemical compounds known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
The report describes the results of sampling of 65 public water systems across the state. The sampling found no instances of levels exceeding the EPA’s current health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of the sum of PFOA and PFOS, the two most studied PFAS compounds. The sampling showed two drinking water systems with levels between 35 and 70 ppt and one other system with a level between 28 and 35 ppt.
Currently, there are no enforceable federal regulatory drinking water standards for PFAS. MDE anticipates that an enforceable federal regulation for PFOA and PFOS will be finalized late next year.
MDE issued a report in July 2021 on the first phase of its sampling initiative, which included testing of 66 community drinking water systems serving about 4.3 million people. MDE has sampled for PFAS at drinking water systems serving about 70% of the state’s population.
“Maryland is committed to reducing the risks of PFAS chemicals in our state and continuing our close coordination with scientific, local, state and federal partners,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Our ongoing sampling for PFAS in public drinking water systems is a big part of our comprehensive approach to understanding and communicating risks to reduce the potential for harm.”
PFAS refers to thousands of human-made chemicals that have been used since the 1940s in a range of products, including stain- and water-resistant fabrics and carpeting, cleaning products, paints, cookware, food packaging and fire-fighting foams. These uses have led to PFAS entering the environment, where they have been measured by several states in soil, surface water, groundwater and seafood. Most people have been exposed to PFAS because of their use in so many common consumer goods. There is evidence that exposure to certain PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — may lead to adverse health effects in humans.
The risk posed by exposure to PFAS is an emerging and evolving national concern. MDE has initiated a multi-pronged, risk-based, scientific approach to understand and communicate the risks associated with PFAS exposure and to reduce unacceptable risks. An integral part of this is a better understanding of the occurrence of PFAS in public drinking water supplies. After working to identify locations with the highest potential relative risk of PFAS occurrence, in September 2020 MDE initiated the first phase of public water system sampling.
For the second phase of sampling, drinking water systems were selected based on: consumer potential for long term exposure to PFAS, if present; source water vulnerabilities; interest by MDE in determining whether groundwater from confined aquifers is less likely to be impacted by PFAS; and proximity to potential PFAS sources. MDE has encouraged the three systems with levels greater than 28 ppt to conduct regular monitoring for PFAS.
MDE may adjust its monitoring approaches and response to occurrences of PFOA and PFOS across the state’s drinking water sources once EPA finalizes its enforceable regulation for PFOA and PFOS next year.
Sampling for the third phase of MDE efforts to sample public water systems for PFAS began in August 2021 and is expected to continue through late spring 2022. MDE will address any elevated PFAS levels that are detected and produce a report on these results as well.
In addition to the department’s commitment to understanding PFAS in drinking water, MDE is also evaluating PFAS levels in seafood (in recreationally caught fish and blue crabs), wastewater and other potential sources such as sewage sludge. Information on Maryland and PFAS, including the new report, is available on MDE’s website.
St. Louis Recycling Facility Exposed Workers to Fall, Machine Hazards, Leading to Fatality
A workplace safety investigation following a worker’s fatal crushing injuries at a St. Louis recycling facility on Oct. 26, 2021, alleges the company failed to erect guards or barriers to prevent workers from falling into a paper baler and de-energize the conveyor and baler while the worker cleared a jam.
An investigation by OSHA found the worker was sorting and loading paper products onto the in-feed conveyor of a paper baler when materials jammed the chute and stopped the conveyor. The worker walked up the conveyor to unjam the materials and fell down the chute and into the paper baler.
OSHA issued one willful, 21 serious and two other-than-serious safety violations to Central Paper Stock, Inc. and proposed penalties of $260,508. The company was also placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
“A worker’s life might have been saved had safe operating procedures been followed. No worker should ever be exposed to falling into dangerous equipment or being struck by equipment that cycles during service and maintenance,” said OSHA Area Director Bill McDonald in St. Louis. “The numerous safety OSHA violations cited in this facility must be addressed to prevent a similar tragedy.”
OSHA also cited Central Paper Stock for violations involving walking-working surfaces, personal protective equipment, potential explosive dust accumulation, permit-required confined spaces, sanitary conditions, electrical wiring, fire extinguisher training and hazard communication.
The agency’s fall protection standards offer safety information about hazards and proper safety procedures for walking-working surfaces.
Central Paper Stock, Inc. is a materials recovery facility that purchases, sorts and bales over 20,000 tons of paper and plastic goods annually.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Discharged Excessive Phosphorus, Fecal Coliform into Brook
According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, Aspen Hills Homeowners Association’s wastewater treatment plant in Elk River consistently discharged excess phosphorus, suspended solids, and fecal coliform above permitted limits into nearby Tibbets Brook from 2019 to 2021. These pollutants negatively impact water quality, putting aquatic life and potentially human health at risk. Tibbets Brook has been on the MPCA’s list of impaired waters since 2012 for E. coli impairments.
In addition to paying a $10,767 civil penalty to the MPCA, Aspen Hills Homeowners Assoc. must complete corrective actions, including:
  • Hire a third-party consultant with wastewater experience to complete and submit a facility evaluation to determine changes needed to the physical components and operation of the plant to ensure future permit compliance. 
  • Prepare and submit an operations and reserve fund plan (OFP). The OFP must include an evaluation of current and future operations, maintenance, and capital costs to ensure the system is adequately funded to operate and maintain permit compliance. 
MPCA rules and regulations are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities. When companies do not fully comply with regulatory requirements, the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment.
Food Manufacturer Violates Federal Safety Procedures for 20th Time in 5 Years
Twenty times in the past five years, federal workplace safety investigators have cited a food manufacturer for exposing workers to amputation and other serious hazards.
On Oct. 30, 2021, OSHA received another employer-reported referral from Hearthside Food Solutions, Inc.’s Romeoville facility after a maintenance employee suffered the amputation of one finger and the partial amputation of another while troubleshooting a carton-closing machine. Investigators determined the worker’s hand had contacted the machine’s pulley.
OSHA cited Hearthside Food Solutions, Inc. for one serious, one repeated and one willful violation for failing to use lockout/tagout procedures to control hazardous energy sources. The company also failed to test machine safety procedures periodically for effectiveness and develop adequate procedures to control hazardous energy sources.
The agency has proposed penalties of $231,625.
“OSHA standards are put in place to prevent workers from suffering life-altering injuries,” said OSHA’s Chicago South Area Director James Martineck in Tinley Park. “This company’s history of violating federal standards shows a corporate culture that lacks urgency to keep workers safe. Hearthside Food should immediately re-evaluate its training and safety procedures at all of its facilities.”
OSHA’s machine guarding and control of hazardous energy webpages provide information on what employers must do to limit worker exposure to machine hazards.
Settlement with Recycling Company Will Reduce Release of Ozone Depleting Refrigerants
The United States, on behalf of the EPA, has reached a proposed settlement with Schnitzer Steel, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act and regulations designed to protect stratospheric ozone at 40 scrap metal recycling facilities throughout the United States.
If approved by the court, the settlement will require the company to pay a civil penalty of $1,550,000, implement compliance measures worth over $1,700,000 to prevent the release of ozone-depleting refrigerants and non-exempt substitutes from refrigerant-containing items during their processing and disposal, and complete an environmental mitigation project. The complaint filed together with the consent decree alleges that Schnitzer failed to recover refrigerant from small appliances and motor vehicle air conditioners before disposal or to verify from the supplier that the refrigerant had been properly recovered prior to delivery to Schnitzer’s facilities.
“Many refrigerants are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming if released into the atmosphere,” said Larry Starfield, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will help protect our climate by ensuring that these chemicals are managed properly at 40 recycling facilities across the country.”
“To help protect stratospheric ozone and reduce the risks of climate change, the Department of Justice will seek to ensure companies like Schnitzer comply with the Clean Air Act when recycling appliances and motor vehicles containing harmful refrigerants,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Under the settlement, Schnitzer must implement an EPA-approved Refrigerant Recovery Management Program (RRMP) at its 40 U.S. facilities. The RRMP includes, among other things: installation of refrigerant recovery systems at Schnitzer’s facilities; screening procedures for scrap appliances and vehicles; new forms for statements and contracts to verify any refrigerant recovery from appliances and motor vehicles prior to receipt by Schnitzer; notices to customers regarding proper procedures for delivering items currently or previously containing refrigerants; employee training on procedures for ensuring compliance with regulations designed to prevent the release of refrigerants; and recordkeeping and reporting obligations.
The settlement also requires Schnitzer to perform an environmental mitigation project involving the destruction of all R-12 refrigerant in scrapped appliances and automobiles received at its facilities. R-12 contains chlorofluorocarbons and has over 10,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
The action was filed by the United States, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.
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