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When Should PFAS Be Part of Your Environmental Due Diligence?

Permitting & Compliance

When Should PFAS Be Part of Your Environmental Due Diligence?

May 31, 2023

USEPA Proposes Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) for PFAS compounds in Drinking Water

On March 14, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) proposed to amend the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation with Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL)  for the PFAS compounds perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) at 4.0 parts per trillion (ppt), 4.0 ppt for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and a combined risk Hazard Index of 1.0 for four other PFAS compounds (perfluorononanoic acid, hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid also known as GenX, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid).  Public comment period ends May 30, 2023. Massachusetts and other states are prepared to adopt these more stringent standards. 

The liability posed by PFAS to real estate and construction is that these substances are so toxic that exposure limits are orders of magnitude lower compared to health limits for other classes of contaminants, the compounds readily migrate in water, and they resist natural degradation.  This means that even small releases can be costly to assess and mitigate.  Many public and private water suppliers across the country have PFAS contaminated water sources and will struggle to comply with USEPA’s proposed standards. State and local governments are on the look-out for polluters to protect public water resources and to defray their cost to treat their water supply.  Massachusetts and other New England states have already established threshold values on when property owners and operators are required to notify that a PFAS release was discovered.  To properly manage the risk, you need to know when to include PFAS testing in your due diligence.

Situations That May Warrant PFAS Testing in Real Estate Due Diligence. PFAS has been widely used in the United States because they repel water and stains, provide thermal stability, and reduce friction, and they have been used in a wide variety of products. The following are examples when the risk of PFAS contamination should be considered:

  • Locations involving the manufacture of food packaging, textiles or clothing, personal care products, or printing.
  • Locations involving the manufacture of electronics and non-electronic products where protective coatings are applied.
  • Commercial activity having an on-site subsurface wastewater disposal system, especially if the property is in a state or local groundwater protection zone.
  • Locations where a fire occurred, and firefighting foam was used by the local FD or discharged from the building’s fire suppression system.  Local FDs have recently switched to PFAS-free firefighting foams, but a building’s foam fire suppression system may still contain PFAS. 
  • Landfills, and locations where land application of wastewater treatment sludge occurred or where fertilizer sourced from wastewater sludge was applied.   Landfills and treatment sludges can be aggregators of potential PFAS containing products.

But don’t test indiscriminately, because studies have shown that PFAS is ubiquitous in the environment meaning you’re likely to find it almost anywhere at low concentrations. So, it’s important to understand background conditions to determine if activities at your property are really a potential source of PFAS. 

Contact SAK for assistance! SAK has the specialized chemical expertise needed to determine if PFAS testing is appropriate for due diligence, and the environmental experience to conduct sampling programs for meaningful results.

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