News Feature | May 16, 2023

Senators Working To Address Liability Fears Over U.S. EPA's Proposed PFAS Rules

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


After the U.S. EPA announced that it was ready to crack down on one of the most pervasive drinking water contaminants in the country, legislators are now stepping in to protect treatment and agricultural operations from potential responsibility for environmental cleanup.

“Top senators on a key environmental panel are in negotiations toward legislation to address liability fears from farmers and water treatment agencies … over liability for cleanup under an Environmental Protection Agency plan to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under Superfund law, the agency’s first use of such authority in the 40-plus years since its passage,” Bloomberg Law reported.

In the last few years, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) like PFOA and PFOS have emerged as one of the most pressing drinking water contamination issues in the country, culminating now in a wave of regulations to address their consumption. On the federal level, that has included an EPA proposal to designate PFOS and PFAS as hazardous substances as defined by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). That designation would give the EPA power to apply a Superfund principle that requires polluters to pay for cleanup, and some fear that could apply to operations that merely receive influent contaminated with PFAS.

“Water agencies are passive receivers of PFAS,” according to the Water Environment Federation (WEF), a national water agency advocate. “PFAS enter treatment and collections systems through a multitude of sources. Without the proposed liability exemption, a water agency could be pulled into an enforcement action against a polluter, such as a PFAS manufacturer or industrial users. Such actions could lead to extensive unwarranted and misapplied legal and financial burdens for water agencies and ratepayers.”

To address the concerns, the senators are reportedly working to create a broader bill addressing PFAS, that would include protections for passive receivers, which could be ready for broader review by the end of the summer. At this point, it seems likely that the EPA would be receptive to more clear protection for drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, as well as agricultural operations.

“The agency is already considering more lenient enforcement discretion to address liability concerns from water and wastewater treatment agencies to farmers who unknowingly spread the contaminants on their land as fertilizer,” per Bloomberg Law.

To read more about the laws that govern drinking water and wastewater treatment operations, visit Water Online’s Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.