SACRAMENTO, CA – Attorneys from Singleton Schreiber today offered analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed drinking water standards for “forever chemicals,” which are perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are a growing source of concern for public agencies, businesses, and individuals and increasingly the subject of federal legislation and nationwide litigation. These synthetic chemicals persist in drinking water in more than 2,800 communities throughout the United States and the human body for extended periods of time. While the risks of exposure are not yet fully known, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that prolonged exposure to PFAS can cause cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increases the risk of asthma and thyroid disease. In addition, the CDC notes that PFAS are extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to typical environmental degradation processes, with the typical half-life of PFAS in the human body lasting from two to nine years.
The EPA’s draft regulations proposed a maximum contaminant level (MCL) in a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) for six Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). The MCL protects public health because it sets a maximum level of contaminant allowed in drinking water from a public water system. Specifically, the EPA is proposing an enforceable MCL for two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, at 4 parts per trillion (4.0 nanograms/Liter), which is significantly lower than the previous screening level of 70 parts per trillion. The EPA anticipates that if these regulations are fully implemented, the regulations will reduce tens of thousands of PFAS-attributable illnesses or deaths.
This announcement creates a regulatory burden and expense for many of the nation’s public entities and individuals faced with cleaning up PFAS contamination. Mitigating the property impacts of PFAS is a complex and costly undertaking. Properties with PFAS contamination typically require remediation, and finding efficient, cost-effective means of removing PFAS from contaminated water.
“This regulation is an important step that the EPA is taking to address chemicals that cause harm to public health. These new guidelines, together with the nation-wide litigation, will help public entities and individuals that have been harmed by these unsafe chemicals to hold the companies that manufactured them accountable,” said Britt Strottman, who leads the public entity practice at Singleton Schreiber.
After these rules become final (likely before the end of 2023), the EPA wants water providers to monitor water supplied to the public, notify the public when PFAS are found in excess to the MCL and reduce the compounds when levels are too high. Litigation for water contamination and other injuries caused by PFAS through Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) has been consolidated in a multi-district litigation (MDL) in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, presided over by Judge Richard M. Gergel (Case No. MDL 2873). Presently there are over 2,000 cases consolidated in the MDL, compromised of public entities and individual plaintiffs seeking damages for cleanup costs and other harm. More than 40 Defendants have been sued in connection with the AFFF litigation to ensure they will be held accountable for the harm they caused, and the first bellwether trials are expected in June 2023. Talks are also underway for global resolution with key PFAS Defendants, including Dupont and 3M.
“This announcement is a major step forward and should aid state and regional oversight agencies in establishing regulations that are more protective of human health and the environment. By working collaboratively with their local counterparts, these new standards will ensure a cleanup of PFAS and provide for clean and safe drinking water for our communities,” said Michael Cassidy, a PFAS geologist and hydrologist for Group Delta (a frequent Singleton Schreiber consultant).
Public entities and private individuals that suspect PFAS contamination and exposure should consult with an attorney and have testing and sampling conducted by an expert to determine contamination levels.
About Singleton Schreiber
Singleton Schreiber is the “go to” law firm for any municipality involved in high stakes litigation. The firm’s attorneys have practiced public law in California for more than two decades in complex, high-profile matters, often obtaining notable results in the process. The firm has deep experience in representing public entities in times of crisis, whether it be massive and destructive wildfires, water contamination (including PFAS issues), and/or the pharmaceutical opioid crisis.