News & Events

Staying Ahead of PFAS: Northeast State Regulations You Need to Know

By James Collins, PE and Jeff Arps, LSP

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made compounds that have extensive industrial and consumer product applications, including firefighting foams, non-stick surfaces, and surfactants.  They are persistent in the environment and are water-soluble, which has resulted in them finding their way into ground and surface waters across the country. PFAS has been an evolving issue in the Northeast for years, with many states taking a leadership role in developing guidance for regulations.

Drinking Water

In 2012, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included PFAS compounds in its Third Unregulated Contaminated Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) which required the monitoring of six individual PFAS compounds. During UCMR3 testing, Health Advisory Limits (HALs) set by the EPA were 400 ppt for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 200 ppt for Perfluorooctane-sulfonate (PFOS).  In May 2016, following testing, the EPA lowered the HAL to 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS (either individually or combined). The EPA established the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS based on the agency’s assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science, of which there is limited availability for the majority of PFAS compounds in terms of understanding potential toxicity risks. In 2019, the EPA developed a PFAS Action Plan to develop additional guidance.

In the absence of enforceable federal guidelines, many of the Northeastern states have developed state-specific regulations, including both guidelines and enforceable regulations (Table 1). Some states include regulations on individual PFAS compounds (e.g., New Hampshire and New York) while others have focused on limits based on a sum of select PFAS; but overall, state regulations are continuing to evolve.

Table 1.  Federal and State PFAS Regulations

State PFOA PFOS PFNA PFHxS PFHpA
USEPA (Heath Advisory Level) 70 ppt N/A N/A N/A
Maine (Maximum Exposure Guideline) 70 ppt N/A N/A N/A
Connecticut (Action Level) 70 ppt
Massachusetts (Current Guidance Level) 70 ppt (proposed MCL** is for the sum of these five PFAS plus PFDA with a limit of 20 ppt)
Vermont (Health Advisory) 20 ppt
New Hampshire (MCL) 12 ppt 15 ppt 11 ppt 18 ppt N/A
New York (MCL) 10 ppt 10 ppt N/A N/A N/A

ppt – parts per trillion, mcl – maximum contaminant level, pfna – Perfluorononanoic acid,  pfhxs – Perfluorohexane sulfonate, pfhpa – perfluoroheptanoic acid

Currently, the New Hampshire Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) are on hold per a court order.  Massachusetts has approved reportable concentrations and standards for soil and groundwater, which were promulgated on December 27, 2019, and are now part of the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP).  Massachusetts has also proposed an MCL that is currently out for public comment.  Both the MCP standards for GW-1 areas (current or potential future drinking water areas) and the MCL are based on the sum of six PFAS with a limit of 20 ppt. As the fundamental science related to PFAS health risks continues to evolve, it is expected that regulations will continue to be updated.

In the midst of this changing regulatory landscape, Tighe and Bond has assisted clients across the Northeast with identifying PFAS, evaluating cutting-edge treatment options, and the design and construction of emergency and long-term treatment solutions.  Please contact us if our team of engineers and environmental scientists can help you navigate current regulations or if you need testing or evaluation services.