DEC Commissioner halted PFAS regulations, but state website says it hasn't happened
A growing number of states across the country have moved ahead with plans to regulate the chemicals known as PFAS, having concluded that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is moving far too slowly to protect public health.
Alaska had been among the states in that group until DEC Commissioner Jason Brune announced to the Resource Development Council March 21 that he believes the state is going too fast. He said he would reverse steps taken by DEC under former Gov. Bill Walker and wait for the EPA to decide what to do.
The state had announced cleanup levels for the contaminants and wrote regulations to give them the force of law. But the process was not completed under Walker and Brune has called a halt.
It’s clear the Dunleavy administration is trying to downplay the pollution threat from PFAS chemicals.
Brune said he wants to wait for the EPA to decide how to handle PFAS pollution. He told legislators he thinks it will not be long, but there are reports nationally that it could be years before the agency moves.
This is of significance to Alaskans who live in areas where drinking water has been polluted by one or more of six chemicals the state said should be regulated as a preventative measure.
One of the numerous points of contention on PFAS pollution is that the Department of Defense wants a cleanup level 40 times higher than that proposed by New Jersey, according to the website InsideEPA.com.
Some of the major potential PFAS problems in Alaska are near military installations, such as Moose Creek, which is near Eielson Air Force Base.
Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont have decided that five of the six compounds should be measured when deciding on the threshold for cleanup, DEC said in its memo last year.
“Because the scientific research on these compounds is still evolving, there has not been enough information for EPA to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water,” DEC said last year. “Therefore, until we know more about these compounds, DEC is using currently available science to set protective levels, which, if exceeded, trigger the need to provide treatment or alternative water.”
Where levels are too high, the state or some other responsible party is providing drinking water, an expense that the Dunleavy administration may be trying to limit as much as possible.
There is uncertainty about this because it appears that Brune has yet to officially reject the regulations, as the DEC website has not been updated to reflect what he told the RDC last month.
So until that happens, all we have to go on is what DEC says on its site—that cleanup levels have been set for six chemicals.
“The August 2018 tech memo addresses six PFAS that have been identified under the Safe Drinking Water Act as having public health concerns for public drinking water supplies across the country,” DEC says on a frequently asked questions document.
“These contaminants have also been found in some drinking water supplies in Alaska. Based on available science regarding these compounds, the state has determined that six PFAS are hazardous substances under state law. This tech memo provides action levels for these PFAS to determine when treatment, or an alternative water supply, should be provided to protect human health.”
What is not clear is exactly how the state will change its actions in regard to the six hazardous substances or what levels of pollution will be deemed acceptable by the Dunleavy administration.
The “action level” is that total concentrations are not to exceed 70 parts per trillion for the sum of five of the chemicals—PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHxS, and PFHpA. This means that when water is tested, the sum of the concentrations of the five substances cannot exceed 70 parts per trillion. The sixth chemical, PFBS, has a separate action level of 2,000 parts per trillion.
There are areas in Alaska where the state is providing alternative drinking water supplies because the pollution level exceeds 70 parts per trillion for the five substances.
One question is whether the rules would change if the state abandons the policy it came up with last August and stops providing drinking water.
“PFAS chemicals do not easily break down in the environment and can last for a very long time. If your well is contaminated with PFAS, the levels or concentrations of these chemicals may vary from season to season, but your well will likely remain contaminated for many years,” DEC said.