EPA Proposes Introduction of First-Ever PFAS Wastewater Limits and Updated Nutrient Discharge Limits

On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a plan to further regulate wastewater pollution including “forever chemicals,” also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in key industries. The newly released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15,  reportedly describes the analyses, studies, and rulemakings related to effluent limitations guidelines and pre-treatment standards (ELGs) the agency plans to undertake.

According to the EPA’s press release, the agency will be initiating three new rulemakings after concluding several studies that were discussed in its previous plan. In particular, the EPA will revise ELGs and pretreatment standards for PFAS manufacturing, chromium electroplating, and meat and poultry production facilities.

With regard to PFAS, the EPA has several intentions based on recent findings. The agency’s Preliminary Plan 15 fact sheet noted that sampling data corroborated the presence of PFAS, including legacy long-chain PFAS and short-chain replacement PFAS, in wastewater discharges from Organic Chemicals, Plastics, and Synthetic Fibers (OCPSF) facilities.

The EPA is also concerned about PFAS-laden wastewater discharged from metal finishing category facilities that use PFAS-based mist/fume suppressants. The agency has however identified several chromium electroplating facilities that have successfully reduced effluent concentrations of PFAS using granular activated carbon treatment.

Finally, the EPA plans to conduct in-depth studies on PFAS wastewater discharges from landfills and textile and carpet manufacturers. The need for study became apparent after the agency identified PFAS contamination in landfill leachate and textile and carpet manufacturing wastewater.

Preliminary Plan 15 also considers whether to strengthen the effluent limits applicable to certain ELG waste streams from coal power plants that use steam to generate electricity. Reportedly, the agency announced a rulemaking to tighten restrictions on water pollution from certain power plants in July.

The plan’s release comes pursuant to the EPA’s Clean Water Act duty to biennially publish a plan for new and revised ELGs following public review and comment. For Preliminary Plan 15, the public may submit comments on its contents for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register.