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EPA Acting Administrator Announces First-Ever Comprehensive Nationwide PFAS Action Plan

>>Cosmo Servidio: Every day Americans count on EPA to protect them
and their families. That is a responsibility
we take very seriously, and it’s a responsibility that
demands action and leadership, especially when we discover
emerging risks to public health. One of those risks is PFAS. Here in the Region III we have
firsthand experience with PFAS. We continue to work with states,
local communities, and affected families
to help address PFAS and protect
the drinking water. When EPA held community
engagement across events — across the country
to hear directly from impacted communities, here in Region III we chose
Horsham, Pennsylvania, and I appreciate the efforts of all the regional staff
here at EPA Region III. It is an honor to work
with all of you daily, and that is why
we are privileged to be joined today by EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler
to unveil and explain the agency’s
groundbreaking PFAS action plan. This action plan is the result
of unprecedented work and collaboration
across the agency. At this very moment, EPA is
rolling out press conferences just like this
in every region, which is the first
for this agency. From day one, Administrator
Wheeler has made this a top priority to get
this action plan done quickly and to get it done right. He is a problem-solver
and person who, quite frankly — I know I speak for all
the regional administrators — he is one who listens and cares and wants to make sure
we do that as well. We appreciate the fact that he
is here today in Region III. We have relayed to him
all the concerns that communities
have here in Region III, but to unveil this today here
speaks to his dedication to the mission of this agency. So, please join me in welcoming
the acting administrator today here in Region III. Thank you. [applause]>>Andrew Wheeler: Good
morning, everyone, and thank you, Cos,
for the introduction. I certainly appreciate it. We are gathered here today to unveil EPA’s
PFAS action plan. Before I go any further, I want
to thank all of the EPA staff and scientists involved
in today’s announcement, including many of the folks
in this room who were a critical part
of our community engagement event in Horsham and have helped address
PFAS challenges throughout the region. I don’t have time to mention
each of them by name, but I do want
to recognize a few. Rick Rogers, who leads the drinking
water program in Region III, has been a national and local
resource for communities impacted by PFAS. His expertise and knowledge
have been invaluable in bringing the issues
to the agency. Roger Reinhart,
who is coordinator of Region III’s
enforcement response for several PFAS
contaminated sites, ensuring a safe alternative
supply of drinking water was provided to public water
systems and private well owners. Sarah Klaas,
Andrea Barbary [phonetic sp], and Kathy Davies from Region
III’s Superfund program, who have coordinated
with the Department of Defense on assessing and addressing
the extent of contamination on three Pennsylvania
defense facilities. Connor O’Loughlin, who
discovered PFAS contamination in a Delaware
public water system. Cindy Capparelli, Region III’s
laboratory director, who co-led the effort to develop
new laboratory tests methods analyzing PFAS
in the environment. And I’d also like to thank
the teams of on-scene and community
involvement coordinators and public affairs specialists
who have worked hard to respond to the emergencies
in the Mid-Atlantic region. Finally, I’d like to recognize
the significant work of the state agencies
who took the lead in responding to several significant
PFAS contamination incidents within their jurisdictions. Thank you all. Today’s announcement is a
historic moment for the agency and the American public. It took groundbreaking efforts
to develop this plan. This is the first time
we have utilized all of our program offices
to deal with an emerging
chemical of concern. It is the first time we’ve put
together a multimedia, multi-program national research
and risk communication plan to address
a challenge like PFAS. It is also the first time that we have held
press conferences in all 10 of our regions simultaneously
on the same topic, and we’re doing that because of
the importance of this issue and so many communities
around the entire country. On top of that,
this action plan is the result
of unprecedented outreach to the states
and affected communities. In May of 2018, EPA convened its
first ever national leadership summit to gather information
and best practices from over 40 states,
tribes, and territories. Following the summit, we hosted
a series of listening sessions in areas directly impacted
by PFAS, including Horsham. We also visited New Hampshire,
Colorado, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan,
and Washington State. We also opened up
a public docket, and we received
roughly 120,000 comments from people
across the country that helped go into the
development of this action plan. All of this feedback and input
is a critical component of the final product
that you see today. I want to just point this out
for everybody and people watching at home. The action plan commits EPA
to take important steps that will improve
how we research, monitor, detect,
and address PFAS. I’m going to highlight five of the most important
actions in the plan. First, we are taking
concrete steps to protect our nation’s
drinking water. Contrary to misinformation
in the press in recent weeks, EPA is moving forward with
the maximum containment level, or MCL, process outlined
in the Safe Drinking Water for PFOA and PFAS, two of the most well-known
and prevalent PFAS chemicals. By the end of the year, EPA will propose
a regulatory determination, which is the next step
legally required under the Safe Drinking Water Act
for establishing the MCL. We are also gathering
and evaluating information to determine if regulation under
the Safe Drinking Water Act is appropriate for other
chemicals in the PFAS family. Second, EPA will continue
our enforcement actions — I want to stress continue
our enforcement actions — and will clarify
our cleanup strategies. To date, EPA has issued
direct enforcement orders or assisted state
enforcement actions in eight separate instances,
and we have provided states and local governments
technical assistance at dozens of other sites
around the country. This work will continue. We’re also coordinating
with the Department of Defense and the affected communities
at a former Army facility regarding to the DOD action
to protect the communities’ drinking water
for PFAS releases. In addition,
EPA has already begun the regulatory development
process for listing PFOA and PFAS as hazardous substances
under the Superfund statute. This important work will provide
additional tools to help states and communities
address existing contamination and recover costs
from responsible parties. Very soon, EPA will release
interim groundwater cleanup recommendations
for sites contaminated with PFOA and PFAS. Groundwater is the source of drinking
water for many communities, and vital for our nation’s
agriculture sector. These recommendations will
give states a much-needed framework to facilitate
timely cleanup efforts that are protective
of groundwater. Third, we will expand our focus
on monitoring and understanding
PFAS in the environment. Specifically, the agency
will propose to include PFAS in the next round
of nationwide drinking water monitoring under the Unregulated
Contaminant Monitoring Program. In the previous
round of monitoring, the agency found that 1.3
percent of public water systems had at least
one sample with PFOA and PFAS concentrations greater
than 70 parts per trillion, which is the agency’s
health advisory level for PFOA and PFAS. The agency will also consider
PFAS chemicals for the Toxics
Release Inventory. These actions are
especially important because they will provide us
with even more data on where PFAS are found
in the environment. Fourth, EPA is expanding
our research efforts and the scientific foundation
for addressing PFAS by developing new
analytical methods and tools. We are focusing our research
on four key areas. One, what are the human health and ecological effects
of PFAS exposure? Two, what are
the significant sources, fate and transport pathways, and exposures to humans
and ecosystems? Three, what are the costs
and effectiveness of different methods for removing
and remediating PFAS? And four, how does EPA support
stakeholders in using science to protect public health
and the environment? Our goal is to close the gap
on the science as quickly as possible, especially as it relates to
other emerging risks like Gen X. We are also working
to develop new technologies and treatment options to remove
PFAS from drinking water. Finally, we will be working
across the agency and the federal government
to develop a PFAS
risk communication toolbox that includes materials
that states, tribes, and local partners can use to effectively
communicate with the public. We owe it to the American public
to be able to explain in very simple
and easy-to-understand terms, what are the risks that
they face in their daily lives? Americans count on EPA every
time they turn on their faucet. That’s why communities
across the nation have asked us to provide a comprehensive
approach to understanding PFAS
and protecting drinking water. Our action plan
provides just that. Through these actions
that I mentioned, we are stepping up
to provide the leadership the public needs and deserves. It is important to note that while we worked
on this action plan we didn’t stop working
on the issue. In fact, we moved forward this
past fall on toxicity standards for two of the chemicals, and we are already beginning
to implement the rest. We will keep the public
informed of our progress, and we will continue
to engage with the states
and local communities. This action plan represents
a pivotal moment in the history of the agency, and a pivotal moment
for public health and environmental protection. This is the most comprehensive
cross-agency action plan for a chemical of concern
ever undertaken by the agency. Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to take a few
questions about the action plan.>>Cosmo Servidio: We have
microphones, and if you would please
identify your name and outlet.>>Andrew Wheeler: Do we have
a question right here in the front? Over there in the front.>>Leslie Pappas: Yeah,
I’d like to know if you could — I’m sorry. Leslie Pappas with Bloomberg
Law/Bloomberg Environment. I’d like to know if you could be
a little bit more specific on exactly when the EPA
is actually going to set limits. You’re saying
that there’s going to be a regulatory determination by —
in 2019, but what does that mean,
and how many months or years after that will you
actually set the limit?>>Andrew Wheeler: Sure. That is the first step and setting an MCL under
the Safe Drinking Water Act. To be honest, the agency
has not set a new MCL since the act was passed
in 1996, so it’s — we’re charting
a little new territory. I can’t give you
a definite answer as far as how long it will take, but we have to go through
the regulatory process as outlined in the Safe
Drinking Water Act, and we’re moving
as quickly as we can. Is there a question
in the front row here?>>Kyle Baggins: Kyle Baggins
[phonetic sp] from the Bucks County
Courier Times newspaper. Is it possible when
the determination is made by the end of the year that EPA
will elect not to set an MCL?>>Andrew Wheeler: Well, going through
the regulatory process, I — we can’t predetermine
what the outcome will be, because we take notice
and comment, but we have every intention
of setting an MCL. The important thing
to remember, though, even while we’re working
on this process — we are still enforcing
the current health advisory. That’s what guided us
to the eight enforcement actions that we’ve already taken,
and that’s what’s guiding our other enforcement
actions around the country. So, I want to make sure
that the public understands we have not slowed down,
and we’re not going to slow down on enforcing the current
drinking water standard that we have,
the 70 parts per trillion. We continue to use that
in enforcement actions around the country. There are a couple questions
in the second to last row. Okay, yes, sir,
then we’ll go back there.>>Tom Murt: State
Representative Tom Murt. I represent part
of Montgomery County and part of Philadelphia. I want to make sure that
you mention Horsham Township, but this contamination
is not limited by zip code. I served in the military
for 20 years. I was based at Willow Grove; I left Willow Grove
to go to Iraq. And the contamination
that has emanated from the use of this firefighting foams
at Willow Grove is in many contiguous
communities, including Upper Dublin Township,
Warrington Township, Hatboro, Ambler borough,
probably Montgomery Township, and probably some
other communities as well. I just want to make sure
that the agency realizes that any remediation efforts have to include
these other communities. Thank you.>>Andrew Wheeler: We do,
and it’s outlined in the plan, and I can go in a little bit
further detail right now. We’re using some
state-of-the-art mapping technologies. We know where the chemicals
were produced, we know where they were used,
in most instances, you know, in large scale, and we’re going
to those communities. We’re mapping them
across the entire country, going to those communities,
checking the groundwater where we know that the chemicals
were used in large amounts to test the groundwater there to see whether or not
the groundwater is safe. We understand your concern
that you just raised, and we are on top of that. Thank you. There are some questions
in that second row.>>Mark Cooker: Mark Cooker
[phonetic sp], resident, Upper Dublin Township. Nine months ago, Administrator Pruitt said
he was committed to having PFAS listed as
a hazardous substance so that polluters
could be held accountable for the costs of cleanup. Why has that process
not been completed by now, and when will it be?>>Andrew Wheeler: That is
part of our plan, and we’re moving
forward with it. You know, that was done
at our engagement last May that we had
at D.C. headquarters, where we had representatives
from over 40 states and tribes and local governments present. We went forward with our eight
community engagements around the country and received
over 120,000 comments. We’ve already started work
on that process. That process is not
a quick process, but we are already
started working on the process of listing it
as a substance under CERCLA, and we expect to finish
that shortly. But again, while we were
developing this plan, we did not stop and wait
for the plan to come out today. We’ve been on top of
all of these issues, including working on
the hazardous substance listing for this, but none of these processes
can be done overnight. They all —
in order to make sure that they stand up in court,
because there may be challenges, we have to follow
the regulatory process, but we did not slow down
in developing this plan. We were doing both
at the same time. I believe there’s a question
next to you>>Joanne Stanton: Hi,
Joanne Stanton from the Buxmont Coalition
for Safer Water. Just — as a community member,
you know, we have several states
across this country who have enacted MCLs
that are quite low, and currently we have many
community members drinking water at levels certain states
would deem unsafe. Do you feel —
if you had a child, or you had a grandchild, that was drinking water
that was contaminated with PFAS that several states
said was unsafe, would you feel
that your action plan at the federal level
is moving fast enough to protect the American people?>>Andrew Wheeler: I think
it is, because while we’re moving
forward in the action plan, as I said,
we’re still cleaning up. We’re still taking
enforcement actions; we’re forcing people to clean up
the drinking water where we see the numbers
in high volumes like that you’re pointing to. In addition to the eight
direct enforcement actions that we took,
we’ve assisted states in dozens of other enforcement actions
around the country by providing them
the technical assistance to make sure that their
drinking water is cleaned up. I can’t prejudge
the different standards that different states have set. We’re looking at those. They were the states
that we invited to our
listening session last May. We’re going to take all that
into account as we set
the federal numbers. We have to make sure we take
into account the concerns of all the states
across the entire country to make sure that
we’re setting the right number. But in the meantime,
we are providing the technical assistance
to all the states, including the states
with different numbers, to make sure that their
drinking water is cleaned up and is a safe level
for children regardless of what zip code
they live in. Yes, sir? Right here, the second, and then we’ll go
to the one back there.>>Mark Favors: Hi, my name
is Mark Favors [phonetic sp]. I’m from Colorado Springs,
Colorado, and I have a lot of –>>Andrew Wheeler: Welcome.>>Mark Favors: — family. Thank you. I live in New York City
right now. They are military veterans;
they’ve been poisoned and in the same town
as Peterson Air Force Base. Before Carson, which is also
located in Colorado Springs, they banned PFAS in 1991
and declared it hazardous and had to replace it
with non-hazardous. So, I think we have 5,000 troops
in Afghanistan right now, so what do you tell —
and my 14-year-old cousin had to have a kidney transplant
last year, so what do you tell
the service members who are over
in Afghanistan right now about why this process takes so
long to protect their children and their families
when the army banned and replaced the same substance
in 1991 in the same town? How do we reconcile
that [unintelligible]?>>Andrew Wheeler:
First of all, there’s not just one substance
here that we’re talking about. We’re talking about thousands
of PFAS/PFOA chemicals.>>Mark Favors: PFOA/PFAS –>>Andrew Wheeler: Right?>>Mark Favors: — [unintelligible]
replaced it in 1991.>>Andrew Wheeler: I knew
they replaced it. I didn’t know the year. But again, we are working
with Department of Defense. There are a number of defense
facilities around the country where they’re working
to clean up the groundwater where they found it. That’s part of our mapping
exercise that we’re doing. We’re using their data as well
as our own data and state and local government data
as well, and we’re trying to make sure
that all the communities — that everybody,
including our armed forces, have safe drinking water. And again, even though we
started this process last May, we did not slow down
over the last year. We have been enforcing
the drinking water health advisory in communities
around the country. We have other enforcement
actions underway right now
with other communities to make sure that
their water gets cleaned up, so that is safe,
and we’re continuing to do that as we move forward
with the MCL standard and the safe drinking water
and the hazardous substances.>>Mark Favors:
[unintelligible] lack the funds. That’s been reported in the Denver Post
in Colorado for over a year.>>Andrew Wheeler: Well,
Congress has appropriated more money for the Department
of Defense to clean up the PFAS and the PFOA
in the last appropriations. We’re working with them
to make sure that the money is used wisely to get it
cleaned up in the areas where the contamination
is the greatest.>>Cosmo Servidio: Are any
members of the media that have not asked
a question yet? If you’re a member
of the media, please –>>Justine McDaniel: Hi,
Justine McDaniel with the Philadelphia Inquirer.>>Andrew Wheeler: Hi.>>Justine McDaniel: For
the monitoring piece, you said that you plan
to include PFAS in the next UCMR testing.>>Andrew Wheeler: Yes>>Justine McDaniel:
I’m wondering if you can talk more about that. Do you plan to test
at lower levels than the previous round of UCMR, and do you believe that
that testing could reveal that there are many more
communities with contamination that aren’t aware now?>>Andrew Wheeler: I’m not sure
what level we are going to test
under the next round. You know, the first round
was done a few years ago. We’re doing the second round
now to see if the problem
is more widespread. We’ll probably use
different techniques and might very well
be a different level. I’ll leave that up to the career
scientists at the agency at what level to test, and we can get back
with more information on that. Are there any other members
of the media that haven’t asked
a question yet? Yes, sir.>>John Rollins: John Rollins
with Channel Six here in Philadelphia. I was wondering if you could explain
a little bit to laypersons. You say that you still — the EPA is still enforcing
advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion –>>Andrew Wheeler: Yes.>>John Rollins: —
but you haven’t set an MCL such as some states
have as low as, I guess, 10, 20,
that sort of thing. What do you mean by enforcing? What are you doing — what are you forcing
people to do? What are you enforcing?>>Andrew Wheeler: We can —
using our health advisory, we can force the cleanup
of drinking water — contaminated drinking water. We don’t have to have an MCL
in order to force a cleanup. That is a misperception
in the public. You don’t have to have an MCL
in order to force a cleanup. We’ve been using
the 70 parts per trillion to force cleanups in communities
around the country.>>John Rollins: You’re talking
about remediation of groundwater
–>>Andrew Wheeler: Yes.>>John Rollins: —
not drinking water.>>Andrew Wheeler: Well,
groundwater, but we’re looking primarily
for the sources of — where people use the groundwater as a source
for their drinking water.>>John Rollins: But you cannot
enforce that [unintelligible] level on drinking water on
the output of a water company. They don’t have any guidance
here until you set an MCL.>>Andrew Wheeler: No, the —
well, the MCL will require
regular monitoring by all the drinking
water systems. If the drinking water system
has a level higher than the 70 parts per trillion, then we can force the cleanup
the drinking water, yes.>>John Rollins: You can force
the clean-up [unintelligible] output of a water company.>>Andrew Wheeler: No, we can enforce it
with the water company as well.>>John Rollins: You can?>>Andrew Wheeler: Yes.>>John Rollins: At 70 parts
per trillion?>>Andrew Wheeler: Yes. Any — media, any other
questions from the media? Yes, sir?>>Kyle Baggins: Kyle with
the Courier Times again. With the UCMR program,
do you know which PFAS will be — will PFOS [sic]
and PFOA be on that again, or is that still yet
to be determined which PFAS will be
on the new UCMR program?>>Andrew Wheeler: That will be
determined by our career scientists at the agency, and they’re going through
the different chemical — the different substances
to figure out which ones
are the most important to test. Yes, in the back?>>Susan Phillips: Hi. Yeah,
this is Susan Phillips with NPR.>>Andrew Wheeler: Hi.>>Susan Phillips:
I was curious. A lot of the science is now
heading towards a much lower MCL than 70 parts per trillion,
as you know, including New Jersey, you know,
the advisory council there. So, can you give us a sense
of where you see this going? Like, what is the science
telling you right now? Do you feel confident
that the current advisory level is actually keeping
people safe, or do you feel like you’re going
to move in this direction to have a much
more strict advisory level?>>Andrew Wheeler: We feel
right now that 70 parts per trillion is a safe level
for drinking water. As we go forth with the MCL, we’ll be looking to see whether
or not lower levels are required according to where
the science directs us. But again, we are already
working with states and communities
around the country to clean up the water systems, and we’re assisting states
like New Jersey that have a tighter number, providing them technical
assistance that they need in order to get
the waters systems cleaned up
within their jurisdiction. So, regardless of what
the national number is, we can work with the states
using their numbers today.>>Cosmo Servidio: Okay,
we have time for one more press question,
please. Any press? Okay, thank you very much.>>Andrew Wheeler: Thank you
all for coming.

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