California State Water Resources Control Board Significantly Lowers PFAS Notification Levels

Environmental Law  

August 28, 2019

On August 23, 2019, the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced updated, and significantly lowered state notification levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The same day, the State Water Board announced that it has formally requested the Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to develop public health goals (PHGs) for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—two common PFAS compounds.

PFAS are highly fluorinated manmade compounds that are resistant to heat, water and oil. They are used in fire suppression foams and in a wide range of products designed to be waterproof, stain‑resistant or non‑stick, such as carpets, furniture, cookware, clothing and food packaging. PFAS have also been found in drinking water supplies and are reported to have a variety of adverse health effects.

In 2018, the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water established the State Water Board’s original notification levels for PFOS at 13 parts per trillion (ppt), PFOA at 14 ppt, and a single health advisory response level of 70 ppt.  The State Water Board’s announcement last week significantly reduces the PFOS notification level to 6.5 ppt, and the PFOA notification level to 5.1 ppt based upon updated health recommendations from OEHHA.  Public water systems are encouraged, though usually not required to test their water for contaminants that have notification levels, and if they test, public water systems are required to report exceedances to the State Water Board.  The State Water Board’s single health advisory response level of 70 ppt remains unchanged for now, but will likely be updated this fall.

The State Water Board also announced that it formally requested OEHHA to develop PHGs for PFOS and PFOA.  The development of a PHG is an important step in the process to establish a maximum contaminant level (MCL), a regulatory standard for drinking water that a public water system must comply with and could be used as a groundwater remediation goal for sites with PFAS contamination.

The State Water Board’s latest announcement is only a small part of a recent and coordinated effort by the State Water Board, California Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom to regulate PFAS.  As we previously reported, in March, the State Water Board announced it would be issuing phased orders requiring sampling by a variety of potential industrial and municipal sources of PFAS, including airports, landfills, manufacturing facilities, bulk terminals, and wastewater treatment facilities.

In addition, earlier this month Governor Newsom signed AB 756 (C. Garcia) into law.  AB 756 adds Section 116378 to the California Health and Safety Code, effective January 1, 2020, which authorizes the State Water Board to order a public water system to monitor for PFAS in accordance with conditions set by the Board.  Among other requirements, where detected levels of PFAS exceed the 70 ppt response level, Section 116378 requires public water systems to take the water source out of use or provide public notification within 30 days of the confirmed detection.

With this latest development, it is clear the State Water Board is taking the potential threat of PFAS contamination in drinking water and groundwater seriously, and industrial and municipal sources of PFAS should take notice as it will only be a matter of time before enforceable regulatory levels are adopted.

For questions about PFAS compliance or AB 756, please contact us.