Emerging Contaminants & PFAS

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What are Emerging Contaminants?

This term refers to water contaminants that are of emerging concern to water quality professionals and regulators. These types of contaminates are not typically (yet) regulated under current environmental laws, and their potential impacts on ecological or human health can be relatively unknown.

In our modern world, companies are creating new products and chemicals to facilitate a wide variety of human activities. At times, these chemicals and products are found in the environment due to how the products are used, how they are handled, and how they are disposed. It takes time for environmental and toxicological science to catch up to some of these new products and chemicals. In some cases, a chemical or material is released to the environment presenting human exposure and environmental risk. Federal and state regulators have to evaluate the most current scientific studies in order to create or establish defensible and reasonable limits for these ‘emerging’ chemicals and materials in the environment.

Pennsylvania protects all surface waters (not just lakes or main stems) for all regulated materials and chemicals. Pennsylvania is currently proposing new safe drinking water and remediation (clean up) standards for PFAS and PFOA, which are chemicals created to prevent sticking in many applications (non-stick skillets, food packaging, carpets, waterproof gear, and fire-fighting foam) and are designed to be resistant to heat, oil, stains, grease and water.

Because of their engineered properties, they tend to move readily when released to water, including surface water and groundwater and are extremely persistent in the environment. Certain communities in the Southeast portion of the Commonwealth and elsewhere are currently dealing with these contaminants in source water and groundwater aquifers.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has proposed new regulations that would establish a safe drinking water standard for the PFAS family of chemicals. Find the proposed rule here.

This is the first time that the state will try to establish a standard that is distinct from the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), which typically establishes national drinking water standards. The US EPA is working on its own regulations and standards, but Pennsylvania and a handful of other states are moving forward with their own rules due to the length of time it takes to finalize a federal rule. If the Federal rule that emerges is stricter than the state rule, the Commonwealth will apply the more stringent Federal rule.

Click here for more information on PFAS.