Finally, New Federal PFAS Rules Are Issued

A glass is filled with water from the sink.

By Luanne McGovern

If you ever needed another reason to be glad that Joe Biden is President – it is the new federal rules around PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances). Most of you will know that these “forever chemicals” have been showing up in our drinking water and even our bodies, leading to long-term health risks. The movie “Dark Waters” tells the horrific story of how DuPont contaminated the entire Parkersburg area with PFAS chemicals for years and kept the health impacts a secret from employees, neighbors, and the general public.

After years of foot-dragging, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally issued legally enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for six PFAS compounds in drinking water. The MCLs range from 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt) to 10 ppt. The timeline for implementation requires all public water systems to complete initial monitoring by 2027 and provide the information to the public. Corrective actions to reduce PFAS levels must be implemented by 2029.

To address the root causes of PFAS contamination, all companies that manufacture or use specific PFAS chemicals will be subject to EPA review and Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting requirements. In addition, the EPA finalized a rule that prevents companies from starting or resuming the manufacture or processing of 329 PFAS without a complete EPA review and risk determination. Hopefully these and other new rules will bring better transparency and understanding of how and where PFAS materials are being produced and used. 

What has West Virginia been doing?

In February 2020, the West Virginia Legislature initiated a plan to sample PFAS in all community water systems in West Virginia. The study, released in July 2022, tested pre-treatment water at 279 public water systems across the state, and at least one PFAS was detected at 67 water systems. You can view the study here:

It is important to realize that PFAS contamination is not limited to industrial areas or large cities.  Detectable levels of PFAS chemicals have been found in the untreated drinking water of Davis, Elkins, Kingwood, Hurricane, and Phillipi, to name a few.  

In 2023, the WV Legislature overwhelmingly passed HB3189–The PFAS Protection Act. The bill has multiple requirements to be undertaken by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, including:

  • Write a PFAS action plan to identify and address sources of PFAS for each of the 37 raw water sources that exceeded health advisory limits in force at that time (by July 1, 2024).
  • Initiate a study to sample the finished water of the associated public water systems after treatment (by December 31, 2023).
  • Provide information to the public on sampling results, the Department of Environmental Protection’s schedule for developing any action plans, a summary of results from any completed PFAS action plan, information about how to obtain any completed PFAS action plan, and contact information for an appropriate person or office at the Department of Environmental Protection to which questions can be directed.
  • In addition, the Bill outlined multiple requirements for self-reporting PFAS manufacture and use, monitoring PFAS discharges, and establishing PFAS water quality criteria.

In May 2023, the West Virginia Division of Health and Human Resources released their testing results for finished water from the 37 sources previously identified as containing high levels of PFAS. Of those, 19 public water systems have shown detectable levels of select PFAS compounds in their finished drinking water that are above the new EPA standards. Most of the highest levels of contamination have been found along the Ohio River (Parkersburg, Williamstown, St, Marys, (for example). 

A working group has been formed to “to evaluate treatment processes and best approaches to removing these compounds from finished water, as well as identify funding options to minimize the burden on customers.” The EPA also announced that $18,914,000 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go to West Virginia to address emerging contaminants like PFAS in drinking water. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has prioritized plans in 2024 to address issues at some of the most severely contaminated water systems (Glen Dale, Lubeck, Claywood, and Parkersburg).

Sadly, at the same time, the Department of Environmental Protection is considering approving a new permit for PFAS discharges from the Chemours Washington Works plant into the already highly contaminated Ohio River. This is the same plant that is the subject of the “Dark Waters” movie. You can comment on this permit here:  

What can you do to reduce your exposure to PFAS?

  • Check with your local water system and understand what has been done to monitor for PFAS. Investigate how your public drinking water system is following up per the requirements in HB3189. If your drinking water shows any PFAS contamination, you should seriously consider an alternate source.
  • Minimize your use and purchase of commercial products that could contain PFAS chemicals. Most “non-stick” cookware still contains some type of PFAS. The waterproof jackets and boots that we all love–still contain some PFAS. Carpets and upholstery that are marketed as “stain resistant” – PFAS. Luckily, many manufacturers (such as Keen and Patagonia) have taken the PFAS danger seriously and have removed these chemicals from their products. See this article in Outdoor Magazine:
  • Minimize your purchase of fast food. Many containers contain PFAS to prevent grease and liquids from leaking out. Opt for glass and stainless-steel containers whenever possible to store food.
  • Check out this article from the EPA:

Editor’s Note: See also Luanne’s December 2022 Highlands Voice article about PFAS: