On Nov. 30, EPA announced the new Interim Strategy for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Federally Issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination State Permits (Interim Strategy), recommending that permit writers for EPA-issued national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits include monitoring requirements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are a class of man-made substances that have been widely used in a variety of manufacturing settings and commercial products because of their oil and water repellant and non-stick qualities, but they are highly bioaccumulative and extremely persistent in the environment. Since announcing its PFAS action plan in February 2019, EPA has taken several steps to begin regulating a handful of PFAS substances, and the Interim Strategy represents a step toward regulating PFAS in point source discharges.
The Interim Strategy sets forth recommendations for permit writers where EPA retains permitting authority (i.e., New Mexico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and most U.S. territories), and specifically recommends that permit writers “consider incorporating permit requirements for monitoring PFAS at facilities where PFAS are expected to be present in point source wastewater discharges.” Interim Strategy at 2. Since there are thousands of PFAS compounds and EPA has approved analytical methods for only a small number of PFAS, the Interim Strategy recommends that monitoring requirements should be triggered in a phased approach. This phased approach should begin after EPA releases a multi-lab validated analytical method for detecting certain PFAS in wastewater in 2021. PFAS monitoring is also recommended for facilities where PFAS is suspected to be present in the facility’s discharge, based on the raw materials stored or used at the facility or other information suggesting PFAS could be present.
The Interim Strategy also recommends consideration of pollutant control measures in NPDES permits for both municipal separate storm systems (MS4s) and industrial stormwater. The Interim Strategy recognizes that given their unique nature, MS4s are generally required to implement stormwater controls designed to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the “maximum extent practicable,” but provides that additional requirements beyond those typically included in MS4 permits may be required to address PFAS discharges. For industrial dischargers, the Interim Strategy suggests that where PFAS is a concern, permit writers should consider requirements for the types of stormwater controls typically used to control discharges of polluted discharges at such facilities.
As its title suggests, the Interim Strategy is an initial step toward incorporating PFAS requirements into NPDES permits nationwide. EPA also intends to develop a compendium of permitting approaches across the country by the third quarter of 2021, develop an information sharing platform for PFAS information relevant to NPDES permitting by June 2021, and engage in outreach with state regulators and EPA regions starting in the first quarter of 2021.