U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 NPDES Final General Permit (Massachusetts Facilities): PFAS Monitoring Included | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, LLC

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) Region 1 issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) Final General Permit for medium-sized facilities on September 28 Wastewater Treatment Plant (“General Permit”) for Massachusetts facilities. See MAG590000.

Despite the general permit’s inapplicability to other parts of the country, it should be of interest because of its incorporation of certain monitoring requirements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”).

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in various industrial applications and consumer products for a number of years. The properties of these chemicals include resistance to heat, water and oil. They have been described as persistent in the environment and resistant to degradation. Potential human exposure to PFAS includes routes through drinking water, air or food. Additionally, the EPA recently proposed to designate two of the chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Conservation Liability Act.

PFAS can potentially affect public treatment facilities (“POTW”) and municipal wastewater treatment facilities in several ways. For example, POTWs receive releases that may contain PFAS from a number of commercial and industrial sources. Another complication may be that conventional POTW wastewater treatment does not effectively remove the PFAS it receives. Additionally, concerns have been expressed that PFAS could unnecessarily impair a POTW’s ability to manage municipal biosolids.

Although the referenced Region 1 General Permit only applies to certain facilities in Massachusetts, organizations such as the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (“NACWA”) have expressed concern that other EPA regions or delegated states may at some time incorporate conditions.

Ten types of facilities are designated by the EPA in the general permit as being likely to have releases of PFAS entering the POTW. It also refers to known or suspected PFAS contaminated sites and any other known or expected sources of PFAS.

NPDES holders are required to sample quarterly using Method 1633 to detect PFAS for:

  • influential
  • Effluent
  • Biosolids

Additional upstream sources should be sampled annually.

Several cities in Massachusetts noted, as noted in the EPA’s response to comments, that they have serious concern:

. . . about this new testing requirement. Since there has been inadequate guidance and regulation regarding PFAS in sludge treatment facilities that test their sludge and find PFAS in the sludge are being unfairly charged with regards to sludge disposal; this is because there have been limited outlets that will take the sludge and the sludge is more expensive to dispose of. Will the city experience increased disposal costs simply because of PFAS testing? What is the EPA doing to alleviate this problem? Please provide a comprehensive plan to demonstrate that the city that is now subject to this permit will not face a financial burden to dispose of their sludge simply because of this new testing requirement.

Additionally, NACWA noted that Method 1633 was not promulgated under the Clean Water Act Part 136 methodologies.

A link to the general permit can be found here.

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