May 24, 2018

EPA Hosts National Leadership Summit on Emerging Contaminant PFAS

The two-day summit convened water leaders from around the country to discuss the emerging contaminant

EPA hosts National Leadership Summit on PFAS contamination
EPA hosts National Leadership Summit on PFAS contamination

The U.S. EPA hosted the National Leadership Summit on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in Washington, D.C., May 22 to 23. The summit brought together 200 people representing 38 state, federal and environmental groups to discuss the emerging contaminant. Topics discussed ranged from furthering health investigations to setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL).

In the keynote address, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt outlined the agency’s short- and long- term goals for managing PFAS, which included defining a MCL and standardizing remediation for contaminated sites, as reported by Courthouse News Service. Pruitt also stressed that EPA is developing a groundwater cleanup recommendation and is considering adding the emerging contaminants to the list of hazardous substances regulated under the federal Superfund law. 

“[PFAS have] been used in products we use everyday,” Pruitt said. “But as we’ve used those chemicals over decades…concerns have grown as they get into the environment and impact communities in an adverse way.” 

According to MLive, another hot topic was whether emerging contaminant PFAS should be regulated as a class or individually. The class of chemicals includes many different compounds and the health effects are still largely unknown. Many advocates believe regulating the chemicals as a class would be more efficient than independently regulating the chemicals. 

Furthermore, the summit comes on the heels of a recent report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which recommends a safety level for the emerging contaminant six times lower than the current EPA guideline. The current guideline is 70 ppt, but the ATSDR report recommends 12 ppt. 

Several themes emerged during the summit, which hopefully will serve as a catalyst for change. Attendees called for a firm MCL and further testing on the actual health effects of PFAS chemicals. While concerned citizens wait for federal guidance, many states are taking matters into their own hands such as New Jersey and Michigan, which are poised to set stricter standards.

Media headlines for the long-anticipated summit were dominated by EPA’s decision to reportedly bar journalists from CNN, the Associated Press and E&E News from entering the summit. An EPA spokesman said that the agency’s decision was based off of space limitation inside the venue. A report by The Hill, however, stated that there were open seats in the press section and questions EPA’s decision to bar certain news outlets from attending the summit.