"Removing PFAS Starts at The Source" as appeared in USA Today on Sept. 30, 2022
What Are PFAS?
Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)1 are a group of manmade fluorinated compounds which are used for a variety of applications by both industry and residential households. PFAS have been in commercial use since the 1940’s and are abundant in today’s society. These chemicals are widely in use because of their exceptional resistance to heat, water, and oil.
PFAS are found commonly in every American household, and in products as diverse as non-stick cookware, stain resistant furniture and carpets, wrinkle free and water repellant clothing, cosmetics, lubricants, paint, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, and many other everyday products.
1. PFAS is the broader class of chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and many others.
Why are we concerned?
These chemicals persist in the environment — meaning they are slow to breakdown and, so, remain chemically active. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans. These concerns require a collaborative and scientifically driven response by legislators, regulators, and drinking water, wastewater, and solid waste agencies to manage PFAS holistically.
Water facilities are not “producers” or users of PFAS. Rather, they are “receivers” of these chemicals used by manufacturers and everyday consumers, and merely convey and/or manage the traces of PFAS coming into our systems daily. In order to address the true sources of these chemicals, it is imperative to discontinue and phase out production and use at manufacturing facilities and find safer alternatives for heavy-use areas such as firefighting training sites. As long as PFAS are elements of products used in our everyday lives, and background levels resulting from decades of manufacturing and use persist, these chemicals will continue to be found in “receiver” streams.
This page will be updated periodically with short summaries of general information, specific water-sector technical information, WEF events information, and links to trusted sites for the most up-to-date official information. For questions or comments on this page or PFAS in general, contact Maile Lono-Batura Director, Sustainable Biosolids Programs.
Note: The information posted here is a summary of current knowledge about these emerging chemicals. The state of knowledge will evolve as additional investigation and research is conducted, so continuous review of reputable sources and websites is advised.
WEF has a variety of PFAS resources available to members and non-members.
PFAS in the Water and Wastewater Sectors: Fundamentals, Management and Treatment
A collection of essays offering a state of the field on PFAS from a variety of perspectives within the water sector.
PFAS Fundamentals Compilation
This resource compiles more than 10 PFAS-related publications and guides.
WEF, together with the American Public Works Association, California Association of Sanitation Agencies, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, National Waste & Recycling Association, Solid Waste Association of North America and the Water Reuse Association, developed this summary factsheet of PFAS substances.
WEF PFAS Position Statement
The Water Environment Federation has developed a series of clean water position statements to guide the critical work WEF provides in clean water policy. These position statements provide the public and clean water professionals with an understanding of how WEF approaches the topics and issues regarding the availability of clean water. Existing position statements are regularly reviewed and updated through the leadership of the Government Affairs Committee, and new position statements are developed as new topics arise in the clean water sector.
Past WEF Webcasts
WEF hosts interactive webcasts on water-related topics and has hosted these PFAS specific webcasts listed below. These WEF webcasts can be viewed via the WEF Learning Center.
- PFOA/PFAS is Here to Stay: Utilities' Perspectives and Task Force Updates - held August 24, 2022
- What Utilities Need to KNow about EPA's PFAS Health Advisories - held June 17, 2022
- PFAS and Biosolids Update - held December 9, 2021
- PFAS in Water Reuse - held May 27, 2021
- PFAS in Municipal Biosolids - held April 1, 2021
- Detection and Source Identification Approaches of PFAS - held April 29, 2021
- PFAS, Wastewater, and Biosolids Management - held August 1, 2018 (WEF membership required)
Joint Principles for Preventing and Managing PFAS in Biosolids
EPA joins the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) in releasing a universal framework for communicating about PFAS in biosolids.
WEF Submits Comments on U.S. EPA proposed a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR)
Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Systems
A recent bill, “Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act” was introduced by U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), with the intent to provide an exemption for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater agencies, including contracted services providers, from legal liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for the release of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into the environment. View the full WEF article here.
Water Coalition Submits Comments on CERCLA Exemption
WEF joined the Water Coalition Against PFAS that includes the American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, and the National Rural Water Association. The Coalition provided this endorsement letter for the Water Systems PFAS Liability Protection Act and looks forward to assisting in its passage by the Senate.
Water & Public Services Speak at Congressional Briefings
On February 9, CRROPS (Coalition of Recyclers of Residual Organics by Providers of Sustainability) convened a congressional briefing into the science and policy priorities associated with the development of federal policies to address PFAS chemicals in the environment. The briefing brought together water sector authorities to present on the impacts of PFAS on public and passive receivers. Panelists included Dr. Linda Lee, Purdue University; Maile Lono-Batura, WEF; Holly Kiser, Maryland Farmer; Chris Poet, D.C. Water/BLOOM; Chris Moody, American Water Works Association; Dan Hartnett, Association of Metropolitan Agencies; and Jason Dadakis, Orange County Water District.
An additional briefing was held on March 27 to spotlight the role of local government and essential public services. Representatives from research, state and local governments, public works, solid waste, composting, and wastewater will offer perspectives on the role of passive PFAS receivers. Panelists included Jesse Maxwell, Solid Waste Assoc. of North American; Bryan Staley, Environmental Research & Education Foundation; Amy Brittain, Oklahoma Dept. of Environmental Quality; Judy Sheahan, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Richard Watson, Delaware Solid Waste Authority; Jeff Ziegenbein, Inland Empire Utilities Agency and California Association of Compost Producers; and Eric Labelle, Town of Kennebunkport, Maine.
On March 14, 2023, the U.S. EPA proposed a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) to establish legally enforceable Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs) for six PFAS in drinking water. For additional information, go to: https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas
This memorandum provides EPA’s guidance to states and updates the April 28, 2022 guidance1 to EPA Regions for addressing PFAS discharges when they are authorized to administer the NPDES permitting program and/or pretreatment program.
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has partnered with a multidisciplinary research team to study the effectiveness of destroying per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) using pyrolysis followed by thermal oxidation to support the beneficial reuse of biosolids. With contributions from supporting utilities and technology providers, the $500,000 study will be led by principal investigators Lloyd Winchell (Brown and Caldwell), Franco Berruti (Western University), and Detlef Knappe (North Carolina State University). The research will evaluate PFAS destruction through a laboratory and full scale pyrolysis and thermal oxidation system, including a mass balance to understand the fate of PFAS through the process.
This DOE PFAS Strategic Roadmap outlines the Department’s overall approach, goals and objectives, and planned actions to assess and manage PFAS risk at DOE sites, and in so doing, to help ensure the protection of human health and the environment. Objectives include researching current and past uses and known or potential releases of PFAS, proactively preventing PFAS from entering the environment, cleaning up PFAS contamination where needed and leveraging DOE National Laboratories to enhance PFAS research
Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (“CERCLA” or “Superfund”), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency) is proposing to designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, as hazardous substances. CERCLA authorizes the Administrator to promulgate regulations designating as hazardous substances such elements, compounds, mixtures, solutions, and substances which, when released into the environment, may present substantial danger to the public health or welfare or the environment. Such a designation would ultimately facilitate cleanup of contaminated sites and reduce human exposure to these “forever” chemicals. Comments are being accepted through November 7, 2022
The Science Advisory Board recently completed its review of the EPA's proposed development of a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal and National Primary Drinking Water REgulation for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In general, the SAB agreed with many of the conclusions presented in the assessments, framework and analysis. The SAB also identified many areas that would benefit from further clarification to enhance transparency and utility. The complete review and analysis can be found at the link above.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) requests input from all interested parties to identify data gaps in research and development regarding several aspects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This information will be used to inform a strategic plan for Federal coordination of PFAS research and development and, in compliance with Section 332 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21 NDAA), the interagency strategy team on PFAS will also develop an implementation plan for Federal agencies.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 15 issued new, more rigorous drinking water health advisories for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Two of these levels are drastically more stringent than previous levels and likely mean hundreds, if not thousands, of drinking water systems nationwide will be affected. The agency also announced up to $5 billion in grant funding to help communities prepare and deal with these contaminants. Here is what water sector utilities need to know.
EPA's PFAS Thermal Treatment Database (PFASTT) is an easy-to-use online tool that provides referenced information on the use of different thermal treatment processes for the remediation of PFAS. It was designed for use by utilities; federal, state and local agencies; scientific researchers; and others interested in the thermal treatment of PFAS. These groups could use PFASTT when making decisions for effective PFAS treatment processes, plan for future treatment plant upgrades, recognizing research needs, and more. PFASTT includes information for 70 publications involving thermal treatment of 58 different PFAS substances. The treatment and contaminants information in the PFASTT is gathered from literature sources focused on bench-, pilot-, and full-scale studies of thermal treatment of PFAS-laden media. The literature comes from peer-reviewed journals and conferences, other conferences and symposia, research reports, theses, and dissertations.
PA’s Office of Water has published Draft Method 1621, “Screening Method for the Determination of Adsorbable Organic Fluorine (AOF) in Aqueous Matrices by Combustion Ion Chromatography (CIC),” a single-laboratory validated method to screen for organofluorines in wastewater. This method detects organofluorines (molecules with a carbon-fluorine bond), which are rarely naturally occurring. The most common sources of organofluorines are PFAS and non-PFAS fluorinated compounds such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.
The method is labeled as a screening method because it does not quantify all organofluorines with the same accuracy and has some known interferences that are discussed in the first section of the method. The method tells the user that the organofluorines are present, but does not identify which organofluorines are present.
Researchers from the University of Arizona are seeking partners for a national research project addressing whether the land application of biosolids results in higher human exposure to PFAS. This project will investigate research plots around the country and address the impact biosolids have on groundwater as well as plant uptake in crops. For more information, please find a presentation from the current project partners here.
PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Thanks to recent trials, EPA researchers may have found an effective method of breaking this chain link of carbon and fluorine to destroy PFAS—called Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO).
Beginning December 16th, the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) will convene for the following: to review EPA’s Proposed Approaches to the Derivation of a Draft Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in Drinking Water; Proposed Approaches to the Derivation of a Draft Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS) in Drinking Water; EPA’s Analysis of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction as a Result of Reduced PFOA and PFOS Exposure in Drinking Water; and EPA’s Draft Framework for Estimating Noncancer Health Risks Associated with Mixtures of PFAS. This meeting (and the others taking place in January) will be open to the public.
On October 18, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap—laying out a whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS.
The roadmap sets timelines by which EPA plans to take specific actions and commits to bolder new policies to safeguard public health, protect the environment, and hold polluters accountable. The actions described in the PFAS Roadmap each represent important and meaningful steps to safeguard communities from PFAS contamination. Cumulatively, these actions will build upon one another and lead to more enduring and protective solutions.
In October 2021, EPA announced important steps toward evaluating the existing data for four PFAS under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and strengthening the ability to clean up PFAS contamination across the country through the RCRA corrective action process.
In October 2021, the Agency published a final human health toxicity assessment for GenX chemicals that was authored by expert career scientists and underwent rigorous external peer review and public comment.
In October 2021, EPA announced that the Agency is developing a national PFAS testing strategy that intends to use its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) authorities to require PFAS manufacturers to provide information on PFAS.
U.S. EPA Announces First Validated Laboratory Method to Test for PFAS in Wastewater, Surface Water, Groundwater, Soils
A partnership between EPA and the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program has produced draft Method 1633, a single-laboratory validated method to test for 40 PFAS compounds in wastewater, surface water, groundwater, soil, biosolids, sediment, landfill leachate, and fish tissue.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which identifies opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution. Preliminary Plan 15 announces that EPA will undertake three new rulemakings to reduce contaminants including PFAS and nutrients—from key industries.
This issue paper demonstrates that food waste streams are a source of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in composts and digestates, with PFAS detected in food waste, food contact materials, and composts produced from food waste. Additional research is needed to inform decisions and policies applicable to food waste collection, management, processing, and consequently, the reduction of food waste.
This webinar shares examples of EPA ORD projects conducted in collaboration with and designed by States and Tribes to use ORD’s expertise to identify and improve the understanding of what PFAS are present within various media in local areas of concern. Projects range from environmental sampling around manufacturing facilities to evaluation of the effectiveness of well and wastewater treatment.
A number of agencies, associations and groups have developed valuable, reviewed PFAS related information. The links below point to reputable and reliable sources of information that are updated frequently with technical guidance and the latest research.
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- Interstate Technology Regulatory Council
- Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District PFAS Initiative
- Michigan PFAS Action Response Team
- North East Biosolids and Residuals Association
- PFAS Concentrations in Everyday Products
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
WEF continues to seek out and share technical information surrounding PFAS.
The USDA Multistate 4-170 Workgroup Hosts Webinar on The State of PFAS Science in Relation to Agriculture and Natural Resource Challenges on May 24-25
WEF Webinar 1/12/23: PFAS in Reuse – Regulations, Technologies, and Lessons Learned
- EPA CERCLA PFAS Enforcement Listening Session 3/23/23
- EPA Proposed PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation Webinars 3/16/23 & 3/29/23
- EPA Proposed PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation Public Hearing 5/4/23
- WEF Webinar: What Utilities Need to Know About EPA's PFAS Health Advisories
- EPA ORD Tools and Resources Webinar: Chemical Transformation Simulator: To Predict PFAS Metabolites and Environmental Transformation Products
- Understanding PFAS: Developing Management Practices and Treatment Options for Industry
- Membranes for Water Reuse- Past, Present, and Future: A Barrier to PFAS and Pathogens
- PFAS 101: Intro to the Forever Chemicals
- Not Forever Chemicals! We Can Get Rid of PFAS
- What A Public Works Director Needs to Know About Emerging Contaminants and PFAS
- On October 6, 2023, the EPA announced a PFAS research funding opportunity. Research proposals should focus on ‘PFAS bioaccumulation in plants and animals within agricultural operations. Multidisciplinary research is encouraged.’ Closing date is December 6, 2023.
- Congress continues to advance legislation that directly or indirectly has PFAS impacts, including:
- White House releases PFAS-related actions, including:
- EPA advanced several PFAS-related developments, including:
- Convened meeting between White House OMB and EPA OLEM re: CERCLA Hazardous Substances Designation of PFOA/PFOS
- Joint Principles for Preventing and Managing PFAS in Biosolids
EPA joins the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) in releasing a universal framework for communicating about PFAS in biosolids.
The vision of the PFAS Task Force is to establish WEF as a recognized leader and trusted resource of information on PFAS for water professionals, the public and decision makers developing policy and regulations.
Objectives of the PFAS Task Force include:
- Update: Collect, review and summarize available information and research in order to be able to provide widespread, consistent, and reliable information concerning PFAS.
- Educate: Provide education and resources to enable WEF members to advocate for funding for PFAS research, appropriate regulation of PFAS, and funding for utilities to address PFAS.
- Communicate: Provide a platform for water professionals to collaborate and share information about PFAS.
Ivan Cooper - CEC, Inc.
Viraj DeSilva - Freese & Nichols