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PFAS  in Massachusetts
What You Need to Know

There has been a lot about PFAS recently in the news. As a SIU (Significant Industrial User) in Massachusetts, do you need to be concerned about possible new regulations for PFAS? The short answer is that there are no new requirements that you need to be aware of yet….but, they are coming and this article will help you understand the most recent updates from the MWRA.

So, what actually are PFAS? PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a group of man-made chemicals found in air, soil, ground and surface water. Studies about the health effects of PFAS exposure in humans and animals have not reached clear conclusions. However, results do suggest that certain PFAS may be related to specific health problems.

PFAS – Fast Facts

  • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  • man-made substances, produced and used for decades
  • used for clothing, non-stick cookware, furniture, and many other industrial products because of their resistance to grease, oil and other substances
  • thousands of PFAS exist and are still in use today
  • phased out in the U.S. in 2002
  • when exposed, PFAS can remain in human body for years
  • nicknamed the “forever chemical” because they take hundreds, or even thousands of years to break down in the environment.

Leading up to their phase-out in the U.S. in 2002, studies conducted by the EPA showed that PFAS are harmful to animal and human immune systems and that PFAS were in water; mostly found in water near industrial areas that used PFAS frequently. Everyone is susceptible to PFAS exposure, however those who live in these areas with higher concentrations of PFAS are more likely to experience adverse health effects.

Current Standards for Safe Drinking Water & Max Contaminant Levels

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has the authority to set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for certain chemicals and compounds that might end up in drinking water. However, as of 2021 this does not include PFAS, as there has not been enough studies done to set a fair and accurate MCL for PFAS. Although there has not been a MCL set at the federal level, dozens of states including California, Massachusetts, and Vermont have set MCLs. Currently Massachusetts has set a 20 ppt (parts per trillion) as the maximum sum allowed for 6 types of PFAS: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, and PFDA. The EPA has also issued a public health advisory for PFOA and PFOS and more regulation is expected soon.

PFAS & Wastewater

Although sampling for PFAS is not required at the present time, permitted significant industrial users (SIUs) in Massachusetts will be required to perform quarterly effluent sampling for 6 types of PFAS within two years of the issuance of the Deer Island Treatment Plant’s (DITP) new NPDES permit, or after six months if the EPA approves an analytical method, whichever is earlier. CWA 1600 is a new analytical method that was recently developed. It is expected to complete multi-laboratory validation in 2021. The DITP is in the process of renewing its NPES permit, but there is no publicly available expected completion date. As of now, the MWRA is urging SIUs to evaluate the chemicals used in their facilities by examining the Safety Data Sheets or contacting suppliers and manufacturers to see if they may contain PFAS compounds.  Since regulations are expected to be enforced within the next few years, SIUs should also consider replacing PFAS containing chemicals with non-hazardous alternatives. The Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) is providing free and confidential toxic pollution prevention and reduction consulting services to SIUs, so if you are interested in their services, you can contact your OTA industry expert.

If you would like to read more about PFAS, please see these important resources:

MWRA – PFAS Regulations Letter to SIUs –(11/09/2020)

MWRA WAC (Wastewater Advisory Committee) Update from MassDEP on PFAS (3/5/2021)

MassDEP Fact Sheet on PFAS