The EPA Office of Water has taken a significant step towards additional regulation of each – and – polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Clean Water Act. On March 17, it published an advance notice of a proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) which could lead to development of effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs), pretreatment standards, and new source performance standards for PFAS manufacturers, formulators, and possibly other industries now being analyzed by EPA. 86 Fed. Reg. At 14,560. These industries include pulp and paper producers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial areas. The ANPRM is available for public comment through May 17.

ELGs, pretreatment standards, and new source performance criteria are technology-based limits for industrial dischargers which are employed according to business class. PFAS manufacturers are controlled through the Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers (OCPSF) category, which hasn’t had its limitations revised since 1993. However, EPA is also searching for info on PFAS formulators, described broadly by EPA as users of”raw PFAS feedstock into (a) produce commercial or consumer products (e.g., weather-proof caulking), or (b) as intermediary products to be used in the production of consumer goods (e.g., a grease-proof coating to get a pizza box).” 86 Fed. Reg. In 14,561. Beyond producers and formulators, EPA makes clear that”[o]ther kinds of entities… may also be regulated.” Id. And, because PFAS formulators may be subject to a range of existing ELGs developed for certain industries, EPA says its future rulemaking may contain revisions to other ELGs in addition to the OCPSF category, or growth of a new industrial point source category altogether. In its latest ELG program planning document, EPA described its ongoing Multi-Industry Detailed Investigation of industrial PFAS use, which focuses on PFAS manufacturers, pulp and paper producers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial airports as sectors of interest for prospective PFAS discharges.

While the Agency admits there is no accepted method for analysis of PFAS compounds in wastewater, it is requesting monitoring data and asks that data submittals identify the analytical approaches used. 86 Fed. Reg. In 14,566. EPA specifically requests data about PFAS in process wastewater, cooling water, contaminated stormwater, wastewater from aqueous scrubbers or air pollution control equipment, off-specification products, equipment cleaning wastewater, and spills and leaks from manufacturing or inventing things. Id. At 14,565-66. Given that PFAS appears to be widespread in the environment, facilities utilizing surface oceans in their procedures may find PFAS in their discharge though it is not added by on-site manufacturing processes.

Along with wastewater characterization information, EPA is also seeking data and information –such as costs–for possible therapy technologies. A draft report commissioned by EPA lists 13 technologies as”applicable” to PFAS, such as biological treatment, reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, and ion exchange.

The Biden Administration is intent on moving quickly to tackle PFAS through numerous statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and CERCLA. In the event of industrial wastewater regulation, this ANPRM is the initial step toward new release limits that will set precedent for PFAS elimination or decrease through application of innovative wastewater treatment technology. Because of this alone, it’s worth monitoring.