Canadian PFAS Drinking Water Standards Proposed

Feb 14, 2023 | Environmental, PFAS, Toxic Tort

We have documented for several years now the U.S. EPA’s efforts to propose enforceable drinking water standards with respect to PFAS, and in September 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) issues its own draft “PFOS and PFOS In Drinking-Water” Background Document.  Now, on the heels of these developments, Canadian PFAS drinking water standards were introduced, which add another regulatory layer to the globally evolving PFAS regulatory scheme. Notably, Canada takes a different approach than both the United States and the WHO in addressing PFAS drinking water issues, but the proposal will nonetheless have impacts on U.S. PFAS litigation if passed.

Canadian PFAS Drinking Water Standards

Canada’s draft proposal sets a limit of 30 ppt for any detected PFAS combined in a given drinking water source. This is in contrast to the WHO, which only addressed PFOA and PFOS in its draft recommendations for drinking water standards, and the EPA, which by all indications will only propose enforceable drinking water standards for a small subset of the over 12,000 PFAS that exist. The Canadian standards, though, do propose requiring that EPA Testing Methods 533 or 537.1 be used for detection, which only tests for 29 PFAS types. Nevertheless, the large group approach to PFAS drinking water standards is unique for the moment to Canada, although the WHO did include in its proposal a similar limited subset of PFAS for countries to consider when setting or proposing drinking water standards.

Comments to the Canadian draft document are being accepted through April 12, 2023.

EPA’s Drinking Water Actions

We previously detailed how, on June 15, 2022, the EPA issued Health Advisories (HAs) for five specific PFAS, PFOA (interim), PFOS (interim), PFBS (final) and GenX (final). While not enforceable levels for PFAS in drinking water, the EPA’s PFAS Health Advisories are nevertheless incredibly significant for a variety of reasons, including influence on future federal and state drinking water limits, as well as potential impacts on future PFAS litigation.

The levels set by the EPA’s PFAS Health Advisories were as follows:

PFOA .004 ppt
PFOS .02 ppt
GenX 10 ppt
PFBS 2,000 ppt

Since the HAs were published, the EPA has faced several lawsuits challenging the HAs. The lawsuits generally allege that the HAs should be struck down and are not valid, as they were created “arbitrarily and capriciously.”  In support, the moving parties say that the HAs were created in an improper manner because (1) they incorporated toxicity assumptions that deviate from the EPA’s own standard methods; and (2) EPA incorporated grossly incorrect and overstated exposure assumptions―in essence, EPA used the wrong chemical when making its exposure assumptions, thereby resulting in a significantly less tolerant health advisory for [PFAS] than is warranted by the data. In addition, the parties argue that the EPA failed to go through the necessary public comment period before issuing its final GenX HA, and that in creating the GenX HA, the EPA exceeded its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Canadian PFAS Impacts On EPA Efforts and Litigation

When the WHO PFAS report was released, we wrote that the report will have an impact on existing and future litigation that challenges EPA regulatory actions focused on PFAS. Our reasoning for the prediction was that the standards proposed by the WHO were significantly higher than the EPA’s Health Advisories (which may foreshadow where the EPA’s enforceable drinking water limits will be set) even though the WHO had available to it much of the same scientific literature as the EPA. The Canadian PFAS drinking water proposal of 30 ppt is also higher than the EPA’s Health Advisories and what many predict will be the EPA’s proposed enforceable drinking water limit.  Future legal arguments challenging the EPA will likely say that the EPA is acting by ignoring the science and putting politics over the merits of scientific endeavor.

Nevertheless, whether the arguments challenging the EPA are found to be meritorious in litigation or not, the Canadian report will certainly provide ammunition to parties looking to challenge EPA action.

Conclusion

Now more than ever, the EPA is clearly on a path to regulate PFAS contamination in the country’s water, land and air. The EPA has also for the first time publicly stated when they expect such regulations to be enacted. These regulations will require states to act, as well (and some states may still enact stronger regulations than the EPA). Both the federal and the state level regulations will impact businesses and industries of many kinds, even if their contribution to drinking water contamination issues may seem on the surface to be de minimus. In states that already have PFAS drinking water standards enacted, businesses and property owners have already seen local environmental agencies scrutinize possible sources of PFAS pollution much more closely than ever before, which has resulted in unexpected costs. Beyond drinking water, though, the EPA PFAS Roadmap shows the EPA’s desire to take regulatory action well beyond just drinking water, and companies absolutely must begin preparing now for regulatory actions that will have significant financial impacts down the road.

CMBG3 Law is following judicial, legislative, administrative, and scientific developments relating to PFAS. More information about the services we can provide, including risk assessments, to ensure your business is ready for any intersection with these substances can be found on our PFAS Litigation page.

Our attorneys have been at the forefront of PFAS issues, including giving presentations as to the future waves of litigation stemming from PFAS issues. For more information, please contact the Chair of our PFAS – Toxic Torts Team: John Gardella.

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