How Much Risk Is Too Much Risk When It Comes To PFAS?

Paul Jacobi and Eric Jacobi

How Much Risk Is Too Much Risk When It Comes To PFAS?

Identifying per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) as a major environmental issue is no longer open for discussion. It is one of the nation’s biggest environmental problems. We know that both nationally and locally, the Environmental Protection Agency and the states are struggling to determine how to address this problem. Given the pervasive nature of PFAS compounds and the extremely low levels at which health impacts have been encountered, the regulators and other decision-makers (including banks who need to evaluate loans) are faced with the practical determination of what risks are acceptable between protecting human health and promoting economic development

This blog intends to initiate the discussion of what constitutes acceptable risk. Two recent events have altered the risk. First, EPA established an enforceable Maximum Containment Level for drinking water of 4 parts per trillion. Second, EPA specified that certain PFAS and PFOA are considered hazardous wastes under Superfund.

Given this scenario, it is important to identify the factors decision makers should utilize in determining if investigation and/or remediation of PFAS is required. The following is a list of some key factors:

1. Is there a likely source of known PFAS contamination on-site? Some states have lists of operations or land uses likely associated with PFAS. If your operations and uses are not on such a list, sampling for PFAS should not be needed. For example, in Connecticut, Part 4 of the Environmental Condition Assessment form provides a list of likely PFAS sources.

2. If PFAS are located on-site, did they originate from an off-site source? This may require upgradient sampling to determine if the PFAS have migrated on-site from an off-site release.

3. Is there potable water nearby or on-site? This may result in a need for investigation/remediation regardless of whether the site is currently in a regulatory program.

4. Is there a history of firefighting foam being used on the property or does the property contain certain fire suppression systems?

Example: A site in an area with degraded groundwater quality, not in a regulatory program and not performing operations anticipated to generate PFAS should not be required to perform PFAS sampling.

Many states have yet to determine appropriate regulatory standards. Such standards and viable treatment methods will certainly be developed in the near future. The sky is definitely NOT falling. However, PFAS and PFOS are undisputedly a big problem and would best be resolved through cooperation between the regulators and regulated community. It appears that the federal government and the states are hoping to develop programs that will balance the interest of protecting health and maintaining our economy. We need to work together!