Ignoring a Key Contaminant Source: The Critical Oversight in EPA’s PFAS Rules

Ignoring a Key Contaminant Source: The Critical Oversight in EPA’s PFAS Rules

Forever chemicals, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are persistent pollutants that pose significant environmental and health risks.

Their long-term impact on ecosystems and human health is a major concern.

A recent study conducted by Harvard found that unmonitored PFAS can accumulate and last for centuries.

The study highlights a critical oversight in the EPA's rules on PFAS.

Earlier this year, the EPA proposed the maximum allowable levels of six PFAS in potable water.

However, these regulations fall short as they only regulate six out of the twelve PFAS compounds found at pollution sites nationwide, leaving half unmonitored and unregulated.

PFAS are present in various products, including fire retardant foams, and have been building up in the environment since the 1930s. Exposures to some PFAS are linked to a range of health risks.

PFAS compounds come in two forms: a precursor form and a terminal form. Most of the monitored PFAS compounds are terminal compounds.

Precursor compounds can transform into terminal forms through biological or environmental processes.

The US military's extensive use of fire-retardant foams containing PFAS, known as AFFF, makes it the largest global user of these harmful compounds, contributing significantly to PFAS contamination.

For decades, hundreds of military bases across the US and around the world used AFFF containing high levels of PFAS for fire training drills and fighting fires.

Many PFAS precursors present in AFFF are difficult to measure. The study shows that they are slowly transforming into PFAS of health concern at AFFF-contaminated sites.

Much of the PFAS at military sites consists of precursors that are omitted from standard analytical methods.

The Harvard team modeled the expected duration and contribution of those precursors to groundwater contamination.

The researchers projected, without remediation, widespread PFAS contamination of drinking water supplies near military facilities is likely to persist for centuries.

It is still unclear whether current remediation technologies are effective at cleaning up precursor compounds, highlighting the need for further research and development.

Elevated PFAS exposures downstream of more than 300 US military facilities that used fire-fighting foams could similarly persist for centuries, according to the researchers.

The study emphasizes the urgent need for advances in remediation technology that are effective at cleaning up both terminal and precursor compounds.

The researchers urge the EPA to revise its rules on PFAS to include precursor compounds.