Rules and Regs: Congress Pushes Action on PFAS Contamination

Also in this month’s regulations update, a New Jersey company is fined for making over 45 million illegal robocalls to sell septic tank products

Rules and Regs: Congress Pushes Action on PFAS Contamination

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manmade substances called “forever chemicals,” have become an environmental issue worldwide. Now the U.S. wastewater industry is starting to face issues related to PFAS regarding municipal treatment of septic waste, land spreading of septage and impacts on onsite systems. In late July, by a vote of 241-183, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to declare some PFAS chemicals a hazard. If it becomes law, the bill would, among other actions:

  • Require the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to designate two PFAS chemicals (perflurooctanoic acid and perfluroactanesulfonic acid and their salts) as hazardous substances.
  • Require the administrator to decide, no more than five years after the bill becomes law, whether all PFAS compounds should be designated hazardous.
  • Require the EPA to annually publish a list of technologies that will remove PFAS from drinking water.
  • Require the EPA to order comprehensive toxicity testing of PFAS compounds.
  • Create a labeling program to tell consumers what products are safer choices because they do not involve PFAS.
  • Establish a website about home water well testing.

The bill, H.R. 2467, was introduced on April 13 by Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton. After passing the House, the bill moved to the Senate committee on Environment and Public Works.

PFAS are a family of more than 4,000 chemicals that have been made since the 1940s and are used in a wide variety of products including carpet, fabric, paper packaging and some firefighting foams. PFAS traces have turned up in wells and municipal water systems. Research so far suggests that high PFAS concentrations in humans may increase cholesterol levels, decrease response to vaccines, increase risk of thyroid disease, decrease fertility in women and increase the risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women.

Water utilities, worried about being hit with PFAS treatment costs, lobbied Congress through their associations for more money and liability protection.

“We want to protect the public from PFAS — we want all that,” said Mike Keegan, a regulatory analyst at the National Rural Water Association, which represents local water utilities. “But when you get into the mechanics (of the bill), what they’re really doing is passing on the liability to the public.”

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, representing the largest publicly owned water utilities, says liability should be the responsibility of PFAS manufacturers, reported the Louisiana Illuminator.

Some states have already taken action on their own. New Hampshire, for example, set its own PFAS drinking water limits — first by administrative rule and then by legislative action — when a court injunction threatened to delay new standards.

It was also in New Hampshire where the onsite implications of PFAS came into focus. In April 2019, the state informed Biological Recycling Company, which processed septage and land spread sludge, that it was the likely source of PFAS contamination in wells on neighboring properties.

A few months later, the company told the state it could not pay for filter systems for each affected home and would cease its septage hauling and spreading operations.

Congress passes bills to help homeowners with decentralized wastewater systems

When the House of Representatives passed the INVEST Act in July, it included $500 million over five years to help homeowners install and replace decentralized wastewater systems, reported the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association.

In April, the Senate passed a similar bill providing $250 million over five years. Committees from the two legislative bodies will meet to resolve differences in their respective bills, and the result may be included in a large, general infrastructure bill this year, NOWRA reported.

New Jersey company fined for selling septic tank products via robocalls

A New Jersey company accused of making robocalls to sell its septic tank cleaning products agreed to several penalties, including dissolution, as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

Environmental Safety International Inc. was accused by the federal government of making more than 45 million illegal telemarketing calls to people nationwide between January 2018 and March 2019. The company was trying to sell people its Activator 1000 line of products. About 31 million of those calls were made to numbers on the Do Not Call list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.

Under the settlement, ESI will pay more than $1.6 million and agreed to a permanent ban on telemarketing. The company must also cancel all balances for people who bought products but did not pay. Owners Joseph and Sean Carney agreed to apply for dissolution of the company, and they must forfeit a residential property valued at $774,000.

Proposal in New York could require onsite inspections before property sales

Some landowners in Warren County, New York, could be required to have onsite systems inspected before a property is sold.

The county surrounds the southern tip of Lake George and covers much of the lake’s western shore. For a few years, the lake has been plagued by algae blooms, and some municipalities have passed their own laws to address pollution from onsite systems.

The law being proposed by a county committee would require inspections by a third-party contractor if a system is within 250 feet of the mean high-water mark of seven bodies of water, reported the Post-Star of Glens Falls.

The water bodies are Lake George, Schroon Lake, Schroon River, Brant Lake, Loon Lake, Lake Luzerne and the Hudson River. Municipalities would be allowed to opt out of the law, and the towns of Queensbury, Bolton and Chester would be exempt because they already have inspection laws in place. Glens Falls would also be exempt because most properties are connected to municipal sewer.

Texas county agrees to pay for septic pumping after flood

In mid-July, the Midland County Commissioners’ Court agreed to pay to pump the septic tanks of people whose onsite systems were damaged by severe flooding.

Commissioners set some criteria to determine whether a tank is eligible for pumping, reported the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

The criteria are that the county must be under an emergency declaration approved by commissioners, a residence must be within the current flood zone, and a residence must be under standing water for at least 72 hours.

The cost to the county was estimated at $100 per household. Although counties are prohibited from spending public money on private residences, the county attorney said it was permissible in this case because of the public health risk.


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