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EPA Plans New Wastewater, PFAS Regulations

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

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On Wednesday (Sept. 8), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to develop three new rulemakings in regard to identifying opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution.

 

In making the announcement, the EPA released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which outlines new regulations to reduce contaminants—including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and nutrients—from key industries.

 

“To protect drinking water supplies, recreational waters, and aquatic ecosystems, it is essential that we utilize the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs in wastewater treatment,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “This plan illustrates one way that EPA is following science to better protect public health and the environment. Importantly and for the first time, EPA is committing to limit PFAS in wastewater discharges.”

 

© iStock / Skyhobo

On Wednesday (Sept. 8), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to develop three new rulemakings in regard to identifying opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution.

 

According to the EPA, the decision to initiate the three new rulemakings arrives after concluding several studies previously discussed in its Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 14. The agency has determined that revised effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) and pretreatment standards are warranted for:

  • Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers category to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discharges from facilities manufacturing PFAS;
  • Metal Finishing category to address PFAS discharges from chromium electroplating facilities; and 
  • Meat and Poultry Products category to address nutrient discharges.

The Preliminary Plan 15 also discussed the Steam Electric Power Generating category rulemaking the agency previously announced on July 26. EPA has initiated that rulemaking process to consider strengthening the effluent limits applicable to certain ELG waste streams from coal power plants that use steam to generate electricity.

 

Recent PFAS History

 

Also in July, the EPA announced a new stewardship program that it says aims to encourage the voluntary withdrawal of previously granted low volume exemptions (LVEs) for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The goal of the PFAS LVE Stewardship Program is to stop the ongoing manufacture of PFAS under previously approved LVEs, which have not gone through what the EPA considered the full pre-manufacture review process under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The stewardship announcement comes after a recent slew of PFAS and TSCA actions under the Biden administration. In June, the EPA announced three actions with the goal of reducing risks to the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

The actions include issuing a proposed rule that the EPA says is designed to gather comprehensive data on more than 1,000 PFAS manufactured in the United States, withdrawing guidance that weakened EPA’s July 2020 Significant New Use Rule restricting certain long-chain PFAS, and publishing a final rule that incorporates three additional PFAS into the Toxics Release Inventory.

In terms of the proposed rule to require reporting on PFAS manufactured in the U.S., the rule as a statutory requirement under the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require all manufacturers (including importers) of PFAS in any year since 2011 to report information related to chemical identity, categories of use, volumes manufactured and processed, byproducts, environmental and health effects, worker exposure and disposal.

The EPA says that this will help the agency understand the sources and quantities of PFAS in the U.S. and support the agency’s PFAS research, monitoring and regulatory efforts. Once finalized, this rule would reportedly be the first targeted effort under the Toxic Substances Control Act to collect information on the manufacture of PFAS.

To assist stakeholders in determining whether or not they have a reportable chemical, the EPA will provide examples, exemption notices and structural diagrams. The proposed deadline for reporting PFAS data to EPA is one year following the effective date of the final rule.

In addition to the new reporting action, the EPA has withdrawn a compliance guide that it says weakened the July 2020 Significant New Use Rule—this is in accordance with the Biden-Harris administration. The SNUR prohibits companies from importing certain long-chain PFAS as part of a “surface coating” on articles without prior EPA review and approval.

The EPA notes that the guide was issued in January, in the last days of the Trump administration and aimed to limit what would be considered “surface coating.” The guide also was never opened to public comments, the EPA added, saying that it determined that the guide “inappropriately narrowed the scope and weakened the prohibitions included in the SNUR.”

That guide has been removed and is no longer in effect.

Lastly, the EPA has taken the next step to implement a PFAS requirement of the NDAA. The NDAA provided a framework for additional PFAS to be added to TRI on an annual basis. For TRI Reporting Year 2021 (reporting forms due by July 1, 2022), the NDAA has added three PFAS to the TRI list because they are now subject to a SNUR under TSCA.

Per the NDAA requirements, the PFAS additions became effective as of Jan. 1. Reporting forms for these PFAS will be due to EPA by July 1, 2022, for calendar year 2021 data. View the final rule here.

Prior to that action announcement, at the beginning of June, President Joe Biden submitted his budget request of $11.2 billion for the EPA, with emphasis on issues such as the environment, science and support of state and local programs.

The budget breakdown included a provision for PFAS, namely that $75 million will go to accelerate toxicity studies and fund research to inform the regulatory developments of designating PFAS as hazardous substances while setting enforceable limits for PFAS.

In addition to the increase in funding proposed in the budget, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan recently issued a memorandum to senior leadership calling for the creation of a new EPA Council on PFAS. The council’s mission is to build the agency’s work to better understand and reduce the risks caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Regan asked Radhika Fox, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Water, and Deb Szaro, Acting Regional Administrator in Region 1, to convene and lead the EPA Council on PFAS, which will be comprised of senior EPA career officials from across the agency.

The goals of the council date back to a 2019 action plan that was never realized. Directives include:

  • Developing "PFAS 2021-2025 - Safeguarding America's Waters, Air and Land," a multi-year strategy to deliver critical public health protections to the American public. To develop the strategy, the ECP will review all ongoing actions, propose any necessary modifications and identify new strategies and priorities. The ECP shall make initial recommendations within 100 days of its establishment.
  • Continuing close interagency coordination on regional-specific and cross-media issues to assist states, Tribes and local communities faced with significant and complex PFAS challenges.
  • Working with all national program offices and regions to maximize the impact of EPA's funding and financing programs and leverage federal and state funds to support cleanup of PFAS pollution, particularly in underserved communities.
  • Expanding engagement opportunities with federal, state, and tribal partners to ensure consistent communications, exchange information and identify collaborative solutions.

   

Tagged categories: Construction chemicals; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; Regulations; Safety; Water/Wastewater

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