Regulating PFAS in Stormwater: What You Need To Know

Jan 18, 2024 12:15 PM ET
Campaign: License to Operate
PFAS Foam on a Lake

PFAS, often referred to as "forever chemicals" due to their long-lasting nature, have raised alarms in public health circles and environmental regulatory bodies. Their ability to resist degradation, coupled with their potential to accumulate in the environment and human tissue, has led to an urgent call for more stringent oversight.

In recent years, the environmental and regulatory landscape has witnessed a significant shift toward the inclusion of PFAS within NPDES permits. This move underscores a growing awareness and concern about the widespread presence and persistence of PFAS in the environment.

We’ve put together a primer to explain how these changes may impact organizations and municipalities that require NPDES permits for stormwater discharge management.

Understanding PFAS and NPDES Permitting 

What are PFAS? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of human-made chemicals that have been used in various industries around the globe since the 1940s. Known for their ability to resist heat, water, and oil, PFAS are commonly found in a wide range of consumer products, from non-stick cookware to waterproof clothing.

However, their chemical stability, which makes them useful in products, also means they do not break down in the environment or the human body, leading to potential health risks and environmental concerns.

What is NPDES permitting? 

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, established under the Clean Water Act, is a critical component of the United States' efforts to preserve water quality.

NPDES permits are required for any entity discharging pollutants into waters of the United States. These permits set limits on what can be discharged and mandate monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. By controlling the direct discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, NPDES permits play a vital role in protecting water quality and public health.

Impact on various entities 

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) Permits 
These permits apply to certain municipal storm sewer systems. MS4 permits are designed to reduce the discharge of pollutants from these systems to the maximum extent practicable, safeguarding local water bodies.

Industrial Stormwater Permits 
Industrial facilities, due to their potential to contribute pollutants to stormwater runoff, are generally required to obtain NPDES permits. These permits aim to minimize the impact of industrial activities on water quality through measures like implementing stormwater pollution prevention plans.

Construction Stormwater Permits 
Construction sites can significantly impact water quality due to sediment and other pollutants in stormwater runoff. NPDES permits for construction activities are designed to reduce sediment and control other pollutants from these sites, ensuring that construction projects maintain adherence to water quality standards.

Managing PFAS in Stormwater Discharge 

The integration of PFAS monitoring and management into some NPDES permits marks a significant step in environmental regulation. This integration is driven by the need to address the growing concern over the widespread presence of PFAS in the environment and their potential health impacts. However, keep in mind, not all stormwater NPDES permits include PFAS regulations yet. Moving forward, it is likely that more and more permits will include PFAS requirements, so this is just a peek of what the future could hold. 

The inclusion of PFAS in NPDES permits involves several key components:

  • Setting discharge limits: Some NPDES permits are being revised to include specific limits on the concentration of PFAS allowed in discharge waters. These limits are based on state and federal guidelines and scientific studies concerning the environmental and health risks of PFAS.
  • Enhanced monitoring requirements: Again, some permit holders are now required to conduct regular monitoring of their discharges for the presence of PFAS. This involves collecting and analyzing samples using approved methods to ensure that PFAS concentrations stay below the permitted levels.
  • Reporting and compliance: Entities subject to these revised NPDES permits must report their PFAS monitoring results to regulatory agencies. Failure to comply with PFAS limits and monitoring requirements can result in penalties, reinforcing the importance of effective PFAS management strategies.
  • Risk assessment and reduction strategies: Permittees are encouraged to assess the sources of PFAS in their operations and implement measures to reduce PFAS discharge. This may include changes in materials, processes, or treatment technologies.

States leading the charge in PFAS management 

Several states have already taken proactive steps toward incorporating PFAS management and monitoring into their wastewater treatment plant discharges. While this is not the same thing as stormwater, this offers a good glimpse into the future, as it is likely more and more companies will do the same thing for their stormwater monitoring.

This list is representative of states who have implemented action around PFAS and NPDES permitting, but should not be viewed as exhaustive. Always check with your state and local regulatory agencies to confirm permitting requirements. 

As scientific understanding and public awareness of PFAS risks continue to grow, more states are expected to follow suit, expanding PFAS regulation into their NPDES permit programs. As such, industries and municipalities need to stay informed and prepared for new compliance requirements.

Tips and Best Practices for Navigating PFAS Regulatory Changes 

Understanding the implications of PFAS, whether you manufacture them or not, is critical. Here are key tips and best practices to help businesses prepare for these anticipated changes.

Broaden your regulatory perspective 

It's a common misconception that regulations around PFAS only apply to manufacturers or direct users of these substances. However, PFAS can be present in many products and processes, even in trace amounts. Companies should evaluate their potential exposure to PFAS regulations, recognizing that indirect involvement with these substances may still necessitate compliance measures.

Utilize specialized tools for PFAS management 

Antea Group's Desktop PFAS Screening Tool offers a valuable resource for companies to assess their risk and exposure to PFAS. This tool is designed to help businesses understand their PFAS footprint, guiding them in making informed decisions about managing these substances. Utilize this tool to gain a comprehensive view of your PFAS-related risks and responsibilities.

Leverage regulatory dashboards 

Staying current with regulatory changes is crucial. Antea Group’s PFAS dashboard provides real-time updates and insights into regulatory trends and requirements, helping companies stay ahead of compliance issues.

Consider professional assistance for sample collection 

Understanding your company's PFAS profile is imperative. While Antea Group can assist with sample collection and analysis, it's important to establish a clear plan for how to address potential PFAS contamination. Regular testing and monitoring can provide critical insights into the presence and concentration of PFAS in your operations.

Examine your supply chain thoroughly 

Investigate both intentional and unintentional sources of PFAS in your supply chain. As regulatory scrutiny increases, being aware of the entire lifecycle of your products, including raw materials and manufacturing processes, becomes essential. The EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program has updated its reporting requirements for PFAS, which can be a useful reference for understanding regulatory expectations.

By staying informed, utilizing specialized tools, and proactively examining operations and supply chains, companies and municipalities can effectively navigate the changing regulatory landscape surrounding PFAS.

For support on PFAS monitoring in your stormwater management strategy, connect with our team of experts today.