What You Need to Know About EPA’s PFAS Guidance to States

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum to provide guidance to states on ways to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in water discharge permits.

The guidance covers both permits issued under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program and the Pretreatment Program. EPA provides recommendations – not mandates – on an array of NPDES and pretreatment provisions and monitoring programs that authorized states and publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs) can consider implementing.

For applicable industrial direct dischargers, including metal finishing, paper, electroplating, textile mills, plastics molding and paint formulating industries, EPA recommends at least quarterly monitoring for 40 PFAS parameters included in the EPA (and Department of Defense) draft analytical method 1633 and using the draft method, although it is not yet an approved method under 40 CFR Part 136. 

EPA also recommends Best Management Practices (BMPs) be incorporated into NPDES permits for dischargers of PFAS when “reasonably necessary to achieve effluent limitations and standards or to carry out the purposes and intent of the CWA (Clean Water Act).” EPA provides instances for utilizing BMP conditions for pollution prevention and source reduction opportunities and includes examples of language to include in permits.

EPA also recommends that NPDES permits include BMPs to address Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) used for firefighting, where appropriate, such as prohibiting the use of AFFFs other than for actual firefighting and requiring immediate clean-up after AFFFs have been used. Finally, EPA discusses situations where permit limits for PFAS may be utilized.

For POTWs, EPA similarly recommends at least quarterly monitoring for 40 PFAS parameters using draft method 1633. EPA indicates permits to POTWs should require POTWs to identify and locate Industrial Users (IUs) and revise the IU inventory, as necessary, to include all IUs in industry categories expected or suspected to have PFAS discharges.

EPA also recommends POTWs, as appropriate, update IU permits to include quarterly PFAS monitoring, develop IU BMPs or local limits, and encourage pollution prevention, product substitution and good housekeeping practices.

Finally, EPA recommends states work with POTWs to reduce the amount of PFAS chemicals in biosolids and that public notice be provided to downstream public water systems for draft NPDES permits with PFAS-specific conditions.

EPA has issued this guidance as part of its “holistic approach” to addressing PFAS under its PFAS Strategic Roadmap. In November 2022, EPA released its first annual progress report of its PFAS Strategic Roadmap. 

If you have a water discharge permit issued under the NPDES or Pretreatment Programs, you should carefully review your draft renewal permits for possible new PFAS provisions and determine whether to comment on any provisions of concern, including whether they are derived from guidance rather than required under a statute or regulation.

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