New global regulations for PFAS in water for human consumption


MAY 2021


The new EU Directive on the quality of water intended for human consumption, which was approved by the European Parliament on 16 December 2020 and came into force on 12 January 2021, introduces a number of changes. These include updating the quality standards for drinking water, setting stricter limits for already regulated contaminants and adding standards for new polluting substances. Based on the updated World Health Organisation Drinking Water Guidelines, Directive 2020/2184/EU introduces limits for a number of so-called 'emerging' pollutants, including a family of compounds of high public health concern: PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The limits introduced concern two parameters in particular: PFAS Total (limit of 0.5 g/L/L) and the Sum of PFAS (limit of 0.1 mg/L). The term PFAS is not new to Italy due to the infamous events surrounding the industrial contamination of drinking water sources in a large part of the Veneto Region, where a more restrictive regional law was already in force. Awareness among the public and the operators of this class of pollutants was confirmed in a survey by Utilitalia (link), which showed that 65% of the operators surveyed (covering 41% of the Italian population served) already have data on the presence of these compounds in the water systems they manage.
With events similar to those in the Veneto, the issue of PFAS in drinking water has long been at the centre of debate in the United States. In late February 2021, the US EPA announced two important actions concerning PFAS as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act (link): first, Final Regulatory Determinations were established for PFOA and PFOS, the last step before regulation on a national level of these two types of PFAS in potable water. The regulatory process is expected to be completed by the end of 2021 and the EPA may also consider other types of PFAS. The other action concerns the introduction of the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5), which requires that water systems of a certain size collect and analyse samples to study 30 compounds over a 12-month period: 29 of the 30 substances belong to the PFAS family. In addition to water service providers, this regulation will affect companies and industries that may have an indirect impact on water for human consumption. According to the UCMR 5, exceeding the PFAS limits will trigger checks on the environmental practices of companies that: (1) release effluents into drinking water sources; (2) send waste to landfills whose leachates may contaminate drinking water sources; (3) have properties adjacent to or near drinking water sources.


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