State Water Board Issues Notification and Response Levels for PFBS in Drinking Water; DTSC to Finalize Carpets and Rugs with PFAS as “Priority Products” in 2021

Environmental Law  

March 12, 2021

There has been no shortage of recent regulatory developments concerning per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in California, which are especially relevant to drinking water systems and the consumer product community.

On March 5, 2021, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), Division of Drinking Water (DDW), issued a notification level of 0.5 parts per billion (ppb), and a response level of 5 ppb, for perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) in drinking water.  PFBS is a type of PFAS compound that is commonly used as a replacement compound for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).  PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are the two most common PFAS compounds and thus far have largely been the subject of most of California’s efforts to regulate and address public concerns with PFAS.  Accordingly, DDW’s issuance of notification and response levels for PFBS adds a new PFAS compound to the mix of DDW’s existing notification levels for PFOS (6.5 parts per trillion (ppt)) and PFOA (5.1 ppt).  DDW’s actions also appear to be the first regulatory standard established for “short-chain” PFAS compounds in California.

A notification level is the concentration of an unregulated drinking water contaminant that does not pose a significant health risk.  Public water systems are encouraged, though usually not required to test their water for contaminants that have notification levels, and if public water systems test, they are required to report exceedances to the State Water Board.  A response level is the level at which DDW recommends removal of a drinking water source from service.

DDW’s notification and response levels for PFBS are based on thyroid toxicity, as well as technical information sent to the State Water Board from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).  At the moment, it does not appear that the State Water Board has requested OEHHA to develop a public health goal (PHG) for PFBS, which 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 eventually be used as a groundwater remediation goal.  However, draft PHGs for PFOS and PFOA are expected later this year.

Separately, the Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) recently announced that the agency’s rulemaking efforts to adopt regulations listing carpets and rugs that contain PFAS substances as “priority products” will be finalized in 2021.  A “priority product” is a consumer product identified by DTSC that contains one or more chemicals (known as candidate chemicals) that have a hazardous trait that can harm people or the environment.  PFAS compounds are commonly used in a variety of consumer products such as carpets and rugs because they are resistant to heat, water and oil.  Once DTSC finalizes this rulemaking, priority product manufacturers are required to submit an alternatives analysis comparing the chemical of concern in the priority product with potential alternatives, or remove or replace the chemical of concern from the priority product or remove the product from the market.  For additional information regarding DTSC’s rulemaking, please click here and here.