PFAS Contamination and Cost Recovery

PFAS Contamination and Cost Recovery

This report contains important information on PFAS contamination and a cost recovery program for testing, treatment and remediation initiated by the National Rural Water Association on behalf of rural water and wastewater utilities across America.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they do not break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects like kidney damage, cancer, developmental effects to fetuses, and other illnesses. 

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the health advisory level from 400 parts per trillion to 70 parts per trillion. Since that change was made, states have taken independent actions ranging from the adoption of the recommended health advisory level of 70 ppt to a much lower allowable level. As a result, systems of all sizes are experiencing increased cost for testing treatment and remediation. At the same time, the EPA has made PFAS contamination a priority and action has been taken to label PFAS as a hazardous substance. This will impact wastewater utilities and the disposal of bio-solids into a hazardous landfill if PFAS is detected.

In 2019, the National Rural Water Association recognized the financial burden on systems and joined the law office of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC to bring these systems together that have concerns or have been affected by PFAS contamination. This potential landmark contamination case could help water and wastewater systems recoup money spent on treatment and remediation. The sole purpose is to allow utilities the opportunity to recover their cost associated with testing, treatment and remediation with no upfront cost to the utility. 

It is recommended that utilities register for cost recovery if they have tested and detected PFAS at any level or if the water source is near a potential PFAS contamination site. These sites include, but are not limited to, airports, military bases, fire training activity areas, landfills and/or manufacturing facilities. There are three key points to this action:

  1.  The action is for cost recovery as opposed to punitive and is filed against the global manufacturers of the compounds, not any local companies who may have used them.
  2.  There are no upfront costs to the utility to register for cost recovery.
  3.  Once a settlement is reached, the utility has the option of accepting the settlement or declining.

Utilities can find more information about PFAS contamination here and register for cost recovery here.