The EPA has found PFOA and PFOS to cause significant negative health impacts in laboratory animals and has committed itself to moving forward with several actions aimed at helping affected communities better monitor, detect and address PFAS.In 2016, the EPA published a health advisory—but not a regulatory standard—on PFOA and PFOS, establishing safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water at no more than 70 parts per trillion, and following several meetings with other federal, state and local government stakeholders unveiled a formal PFAS Action Plan in 2019. In the plan, the EPA outlines the long-and-short term actions that the agency plans to take surrounding the chemicals, including but not limited to: developing a maximum containment level for states and local water utilities via the Safe Drinking Water Act; listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLCA, also known as Superfund); considering listing the chemicals in the Toxic Release Inventory; and developing new and better methods to detect the chemicals in drinking water, soil and groundwater.
The EPA issued an update to that action plan in February 2020 outlining actions taken to address and mitigate the chemicals in the environment. To date, the federal agency has issued groundwater cleanup guidance, is moving forward to develop a national drinking water regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOS and PFOA, issued a proposal ensuring that new uses of certain chemicals within the class cannot be manufactured or imported without notification and review under the Toxic Substances Control Act, initiated the regulatory process for listing PFOA and PFOS as CERCLA hazardous substances, and announced a new testing method for 11 additional PFAS chemicals in drinking water, among others. Additionally, the EPA announced approximately $4.8 million for new research focused on managing PFAS in the agriculture sector and highlighted new ways that existing programs, like State Revolving Funds, can be used to address PFAS.
Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency announced drinking water health advisories for several per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Specifically, the agency released two interim health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and two final advisories for GenX and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid, which were developed as PFOA and PFOS replacements, respectively. A health advisory level is the concentration of drinking water contaminant for a specific exposure duration, at or below which exposure is not anticipated to lead to adverse human health effects. The EPA’s health advisories are nonenforceable and nonregulatory and provide technical information that federal, state and local officials can use to develop monitoring plans, investments in treatment solutions, and future policies to protect the public from PFAS exposure. Information on all ongoing EPA-related actions is available on the EPA website.
While the federal administration continues to work towards regulating these chemicals, Congress is also working to develop legislation to address them—with more than 80 pieces of legislation introduced within the last Congress alone, and over 60 so far in the current Congress.
Notably, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocated $10 billion in new government funding to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants, with this fund distribution:
- $5 billion to address emerging contaminants for small and disadvantaged communities, distributed to improve drinking water quality under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- $1 billion for wastewater and stormwater infrastructure projects under the Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs).
- $4 billion for community water systems to upgrade drinking water treatment, distribution, and replacement of contaminated sources under the Drinking Water SRFs.
While such funding typically requires matching or cost-sharing from the state, the IIJA’s PFAS funding is awarded as a grant, a loan with the entire principal forgiven, or a combination of the two, and every state and territory will receive some portion of funding. For more information, see EPA’s webpage tracking the IIJA funding.
State policymakers have implemented various approaches for targeting per- and poly-fluoroalkyls (PFAS) substances. In recent years, states have enacted legislation to restrict PFAS in firefighting foam, regulate the presence of PFAS in drinking water, food packaging and consumer products, and allocate funds for cleanup and remediation, among other measures. In addition to passing legislation, states have also addressed PFAS through agency rulemaking, such as adopting rules to set standards for PFAS levels in water supplies. Further, states have taken steps to address PFAS through legal action. States such as Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Vermont have sued the manufacturers of PFAS chemicals for threatening public health and the environment. New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for water contamination at U.S. Air Force bases.
Recent State Legislation
Over the years, state legislative activity around PFAS has increased. In 2018, state legislatures introduced 76 PFAS-related bills and supplemental appropriations. In 2019, state legislatures considered at least 106 bills with language on PFAS and enacted at least 15 bills to address PFAS by providing funding for PFAS remediation, regulating PFAS in drinking water systems, and restricting PFAS in firefighting foam and other products. Vermont, for example, passed a bill setting maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFAS in water and requiring landfills to treat leachate for PFAS substances. Minnesota enacted a bill to prohibit the use of certain flame-retardant chemicals in certain types of furniture and children’s products and restrict the manufacturing and sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS.
In 2020, state legislatures considered at least 180 bills with language on PFAS. At least 15 states enacted at least 27 bills focused on efforts like regulating PFAS in firefighting foam and consumer products, establishing MCLs for PFAS in drinking water, and appropriating funds for remediation activities to address PFAS contamination. For example, California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Wisconsin enacted legislation regulating PFAS in firefighting foam and firefighting equipment. New York also established requirements for consumer notices for the use of PFAS and other chemicals in children’s products. Connecticut appropriated money for PFAS remediation and cleanup, and Washington appropriated funds to implement recommendations on addressing PFAS contamination in drinking water.
In 2021, state legislatures considered at least 196 bills on PFAS. States considered bills to eliminate PFAS from food packaging, ban the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS, establish drinking water standards, and eliminate the chemicals from textiles, cosmetics, and other products. Some states, including Maine and New York, considered legislation to phase out PFAS in all consumer products. States also considered legislation related to the cleanup of contaminated areas. Washington, for example, allocated funding to implement recommendations from state agency chemical action plans, including remediating drinking water sources and monitoring the results. States also considered policies to increase accountability for PFAS contamination, including holding companies accountable for the costs involved with cleanup and extending the statute of limitations for lawsuits. For example, New Hampshire considered legislation that would have required a corporation to pay for remediation of water contaminated by PFAS.
Examples of Statewide Efforts
States are taking the lead to regulate PFAS, as noted above and as seen by efforts underway in states like Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington.
- Connecticut—Governor Ned Lamont (D) established the Connecticut Interagency PFAS Task Force that laid out a statewide strategy with a PFAS action plan in 2019. The plan identifies potential legislative opportunities and recommends actions to protect residents and the environment from the effects of PFAS, including cleaning up historical releases and minimizing future releases. Further, in 2020, the Connecticut General Assembly appropriated $2 million (HB 5518) for PFAS cleanup and remediation.
- Maine— In January 2020, the Maine PFAS Task Force published its report and recommendations. In 2021, Maine became the first state to ban non-essential uses of PFAS (HP 1113) in all products. Using a phased approach, the state will ban the sale of new products containing PFAS starting in 2023 and require manufacturers of products containing intentionally added PFAS to notify the Department of Environmental Protection. The Maine Legislature also enacted legislation directing the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt a maximum contaminant level for PFAS in water systems.
- Michigan—After almost a year of undergoing the rulemaking process, Michigan adopted a set of rules to establish the state’s first PFAS limits for drinking water in July 2020. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy developed regulations, which are stricter than the EPA’s guidance on PFAS, limit seven PFAS chemicals in drinking water and cover 2,700 water supplies in the state. The rule also set a new groundwater standard for PFOA (8 parts per trillion or ppt) and PFOS (16 ppt).
- New Jersey—New Jersey has also set limits for PFAS in drinking water that exceed EPA guidance. In June 2020, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection finalized regulations to set MCLs for PFAS of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS and added these chemicals to the state’s list of hazardous substances. Notably, New Jersey was the first state to issue a statewide directive ordering companies to address contamination caused by PFAS.
- Pennsylvania—In 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) issued an executive order calling for the creation of a PFAS action team to develop a plan to reduce the sources of PFAS most likely to pose a risk to human health and the environment, including firefighting foam and food packaging materials. Led by the action team, the state has taken steps to begin the process of setting an MCL for PFAS and has approved grants to address PFAS groundwater contamination, among other measures. The state has also taken steps at the Horsham Air Guard Station to treat affected public drinking water supplies in nearby towns. The Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted HB 1410 in 2019, redirecting a portion of future state tax revenue generated on and around the former military installation to a new municipal authority that will use the funds to remediate water contamination and eliminate the surcharges that ratepayers have been paying for clean water.
- Washington—Washington has taken several steps to address PFAS. In 2018, the Washington State Legislature restricted the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam and personal protective equipment (SB 6413), and the Washington State Department of Ecology is working with fire departments across the state to collect and safely dispose of foam. The legislature also enacted HB 2658 in 2018 to prohibit PFAS in food packaging by 2022 if the Department of Ecology is able to determine that safer alternatives are available.