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Environment & Energy Report

PFAS Legislative Timelines Not Feasible, EPA’s Wheeler Says (1)

Sept. 26, 2019, 4:11 PMUpdated: Sept. 26, 2019, 8:39 PM

Legislation that would require the EPA to designate all PFAS as hazardous substances within one year isn’t feasible, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Sept. 26.

Wheeler referred to H.R. 535, introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in January. The provision to designate all PFAS as hazardous is now included in the House’s National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2500).

The CERCLA, or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, provision has been backed twice by the House and is supported by 53 Senators, said Michal Freedhoff, minority oversight director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. She and Wheeler were among the speakers at a policy symposium on per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) hosted by K&L Gates LLP.

That one-year requirement would bypass the agency’s existing rules for determining what is hazardous, Wheeler said.

It also would designate thousands of chemicals, “for which we do not yet have adequate scientific data,” as hazardous, and it would lump into that classification newer PFAS chemicals that previous administrations reviewed and found to not pose an unreasonable risk, Wheeler said.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All, Wheeler Says

“We do not have the data necessary to evaluate the cleanups that would be required by this bill,” which would put a label ahead of the science and be nearly impossible to implement, said Wheeler.

He discussed a variety of legislative policies being sought to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a category of chemicals that may include several hundred or thousands of chemicals depending on how the category is defined.

Wheeler said EPA estimates there are 602 PFAS in commerce, and another 1,200 have been in commerce historically. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates there are about 4,700 PFAS.

“You cannot use the same cleanup technology for all compounds,” Wheeler said. Different PFAS require different filters and other cleanup methods, he said.

The science to understand what technologies could work for different compounds won’t be available in one year, Wheeler said.

Cost, Other Implications

Wheeler spoke shortly before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change began to mark up 13 bills related to PFAS.

Some of those bills would require the EPA to manage all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as a single compound. Yet the regulatory compliance, market impact, and costs of doing that hasn’t been considered, said symposium panelists representing the American Water Works Association, American Chemistry Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Even bills that distinguish among the many chemicals, such as the PFAS Release Disclosure Act (S.1507) introduced by Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), could have enormous costs for drinking water utilities and the communities that pay water bills, said G. Tracy Mehan III, executive director of government affairs for the Water Works Association.

S. 1507 would require drinking water and other controls for some of PFAS.

A rough estimate of the capital costs required for regulatory options under that bill range from $3 billion to $38 billion, the association told the Congressional Budget Office last month. Recurring operation and maintenance costs of $150 million to $1.3 billion could also be incurred, the letter said.

Waivers EPA could offer utilities that do not detect PFAS for yet-to-be-determined timeframes might be a way to reduce those costs, said Deirdre White, project manager for the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. That organization will not weigh in on whether EPA should set a maximum contaminant level for some or all PFAS, but it will discuss ramifications of different regulatory options, she said.

Challenges PFAS bills present are actively under discussion on Capitol Hill, Freedhoff said.

No Plans to Require Industry Data

Meanwhile, there are simple actions the EPA could take to obtain scientific information it needs for whatever decisions it currently faces, she told Bloomberg Environment.

For example, EPA has the authority to require chemical manufacturers to provide existing health, safety, and exposure information about new and old PFAS compounds, but it has not, Freedhoff said.

“It’s important to engage industry,” White, from the state drinking waters association, told the audience. “They have a lot of health effects research would be useful.”

Many industry groups belonging to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have in-house scientists, said Jake Tyner, associate policy council with the chamber’s Global Energy Institute. To the extent they could provide available data, that might help, he said.

The EPA has gotten PFAS data voluntarily from industry, Wheeler said. It has no plans to issue rules requiring existing data to be submitted, nor has it been told it needs such data, he told reporters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com