Read the full article by Pat Rizzuto (Bloomberg Law)
“Sewage treatment plants around the country and many of the factories that send them wastewater face a new and shifting array of regulations over how they handle PFAS.
The reach of federal and state policies to reduce health risks from PFAS eventually could be broad because the chemicals are used in thousands of products and found in the bodies of 98% of people in the US.
When human and industrial waste is flushed into public sewage systems and treated, the result is sludge, which increasingly is found by emerging chemical detection technologies to contain PFAS. Some states are moving to limit PFAS in the millions of tons of this sludge, or biosolids, spread on farms, golf courses, and other lands, and used to reclaim mines, remediate contaminated sites, and build roads.
The Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether to regulate wastewaters and biosolids with PFAS, a process that would take years. In the meantime, the states that already regulate other exposures to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are beginning to control biosolids and the upstream industries that release wastewater containing the chemicals into public sewer systems, six water officials and attorneys said during recent interviews.
The states aim to prevent further contamination by putting limits—or in the case of Maine, a ban—on biosolids spread on land.
PFAS pose tremendous challenges because regulations and health advisories are triggered by incredibly low concentrations of the chemicals and the types of PFAS targeted for regulation don’t degrade, said Peter Wright, a partner with Barnes and Thornburg LLP who led EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management during the Trump administration.
Three Maine farms have been driven out of business by PFAS spread on the property decades ago, Sarah Woodbury, advocacy director at Defend Our Health, a group calling for a ban on biosolids as fertilizer, said during a recent webinar.
PFAS are often called forever chemicals because some of them don’t break down in the environment. Exposure to certain levels of PFAS may cause adverse health effects including increased risk of some cancers, according to the EPA. Sources include landfills, chemical producers, and textile mills.
The EPA has reported that this fall it will release the first test verified in multiple labs to measure 40 PFAS in wastewater, biosolids, and other media. That’s part of many other EPA research efforts underway to better understand the chemicals, their risks, and when regulations are warranted.
While that research proceeds, a patchwork of state rules and policies is likely to grow, said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, an environmental law partner at Baker Botts LLP who held senior EPA posts during the Trump administration and has advised water associations and states.
Wastewater treatment plants make easy targets, said Scott Firmin, director of wastewater services for the Portland Water District in Maine. ‘We smell sometimes. But we are taking the sins of society and cleansing them and discharging clean water. We allow communities to thrive.’
Water and sewage utilities are tracking state and federal PFAS regulations.
The utilities fear that they’ll become the targets for liability and cleanup costs, said Emily Remmel, director of regulatory affairs at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), which represents public waste- and stormwater agencies.”…