PFAS perspectives: How new PFAS regulations will impact the water sector

PFAS perspectives: How new PFAS regulations will impact the water sector

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new regulations concerning Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) for drinking water in the United States. PFAS, often dubbed "forever chemicals" due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks, have been a subject of increasing concern in recent years.

The new regulation gives water utilities three years to complete initial PFAS monitoring (by 2027) and five years to implement solutions to meet regulatory levels in their drinking water (by 2029). These regulations are far-reaching and complex – and require public disclosure – prompting varied reactions from stakeholders.

Three Xylem experts, Radhika Fox, Snehal Desai and Caitlin Berretta, dive into the impacts of these regulations on industry, technology and environmental stewardship – and the innovative technologies now available to tackle PFAS and advance a more sustainable future.

Overview of new PFAS regulations

Radhika Fox
Senior Advisor at Xylem
Former Assistant Administrator for the EPA Office of Water

Importance of new regulations:

The last time the EPA set a national drinking water standard for a contaminant was back in 1996. So, this is a significant action that the EPA has taken and is driven by the fact that the presence of PFAS in drinking water is a growing concern for communities all around the country.

Impacts on water systems:

In the new regulations, the EPA set limits for five individual PFAS, establishing a Maximum Contaminant Level goal, as well as a Maximum Contaminant Level, or amount of that contaminant allowable to have in drinking water. The EPA also set a Hazard Index to measure and understand the health risks from mixtures of chemicals. Water systems will have three years to test for and monitor if PFAS are in their drinking water at levels higher than the Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs), as well as inform the public. The next key deadline is the spring of 2029. If water systems detect PFAS at higher levels than the MCL, they've got to put in place technology solutions and infrastructure improvements so that the water is being treated to get rid of those PFAS.

Communicating with customers:

The best way water systems can build public trust is by being transparent and communicating the steps that are being taken to address the problem. Being clear about what we know and don't know and having a back-and-forth dialogue to answer questions from residents is key. It’s important to remember that the water sector has a lot of best practices around risk communication. PFAS is a topic that demands such clarity and transparency that we need to really lean in on those core principles and communicate with our customers.

Technology solutions available to solve PFAS

Snehal Desai
Senior Vice President and Chief Growth & Innovation Officer

Next steps for water systems:

The establishment and communication of acceptable PFAS limits from the EPA will kick off a series of tests that need to be done by water systems to create a baseline for communities. Then you'll start to see implementation of solutions to address their challenges. According to the American Water Works Association, there are roughly 5,000 utilities in the U.S. that, right out of the gate, are going to have to take action. But we anticipate that number to grow, as more continue to monitor and understand where they are against the limits.

How Xylem is partnering with utilities to take on PFAS:

Xylem has been working on PFAS solutions for over 10 years, deploying more than 80 PFAS remediation projects in the U.S. alone for municipal and industrial customers. We partner with our customers to talk through the situation and the conditions they face, and how we can best organize a solution set to be able to help them get within compliance.

Hear more about how Xylem is helping water systems solve PFAS:

Advocating for our customers

Caitlin Berretta
Director of US Government and Industry Relations

How Xylem is addressing PFAS from a government relations perspective:

Xylem’s acquisition of Evoqua has further strengthened our position as an industry leader on emerging contaminants such PFAS in water, and this has been a key focus of our advocacy work in the United States. Given our years of experience in this area, we have been an active thought leader on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies, sharing our knowledge with key offices to help them understand the needs of the industry and the many communities across the country that are impacted.

Other PFAS regulatory steps in recent years:

We are pleased with the work the EPA has done to address emerging contaminants, such as the PFAS Strategic Roadmap introduced in 2021, which includes a multi-faceted lifecycle approach to curbing PFAS in the environment. It outlines the EPA's commitments for the period from 2021 to 2024 and includes key actions in the areas of drinking water, process water, land management, research and development, and more. We are actively tracking PFAS regulatory updates on all fronts and sharing the information within our business.

Resources available to water utilities to address PFAS:

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $9 billion specifically for drinking water utilities to remove emerging contaminants like PFAS from water, $5 billion of which is allocated for small or disadvantaged communities. This funding is a critical step in the right direction.

Xylem’s 2023 Sustainability Report launches on June 3, 2024. Learn more about sustainability at Xylem.