Lowering the bar

Published:  25 June, 2018

New minimum risk levels for PFAS expected to have major impact on firefighting-foam-contaminated facilities across the US.

The US Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has published a draft toxicological profile for a range of PFAS chemicals.

The draft report defines the level at which no harm would be expected to people from exposure at 7 parts per trillion for PFOS and 11ppt for PFOA. The new limits are significantly lower than the health advisory levels of the US Environmental Protection Agency, which were set at a combined 70ppt in May 2016.

The ATSDR is also proposing minimum risk levels for PFHxS and PFNA, chemicals for which there are currently no federal standards.

Publication of the draft report was initially blocked by the EPA and the White House due to fears of a ‘public relations nightmare’. According to emails obtained by the non-profit organisation Union of Concerned Scientists, attempts were made by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the EPA and the DoD to strong-arm the ATSDR into censoring the report.

In the absence of enforceable rules on acceptable PFAS levels in drinking water, lakes and rivers, regulators have used the EPA level as a standard. The DoD has increasingly been under the spotlight due to its AFFF firefighting foam containing PFOA; lower safety levels could have significant impact on response and clean-up efforts at PFAS-contaminated sites around the US. Currently the DoD only supplies long-term water to homes near DoD-owned PFAS-contaminated sites if levels are above 70ppt.

The new toxicological profiles were published 20 June and are subject to public comment until 23 July. Comments can be submitted here.

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