Feds Underestimate PFAS Cleanup Costs for Water Sector, Says Report

The Correcting PFAS Myths report shows operational costs for wastewater utilities could go up 60%, and that drinking water utilities could require at least $50 billion for new treatment technology

Feds Underestimate PFAS Cleanup Costs for Water Sector, Says Report

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Public water sector utilities recently joined a national news conference recently hosted by the Water Coalition Against PFAS to dispel the leading falsehoods associated with the cleanup of forever chemicals, and to issue a new myth-busting report setting the record straight that the annual cost for PFAS remediation will be considerably higher than Congress and EPA anticipate.

The new report, “Correcting PFAS Myths,” includes findings from coalition members clearly showing that annual PFAS cleanup costs will be as much as three times higher than current EPA projections that are being used to inform new regulations.

The full Water Coalition Against PFAS “Correcting PFAS Myths” report is available for download here.

A recent national survey of public clean water utilities conducted by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies suggests operational costs for individual utilities could increase by more than 60% as a direct result of new PFAS regulations. Total amounts will vary from utility to utility, depending on the specific regulations implemented. However, a new study from Minnesota supports this finding, showing total wastewater costs to remove PFAS to be between $14 billion and $28 billion over 20 years in that state alone. NACWA says that wastewater utilities alone in the U.S. will be responsible for tens of billions of dollars in additional costs to address PFAS — all of which must be passed on to ratepayers.

Separately, according to a report commissioned by the American Water Works Association and prepared by Black & Veatch, drinking water utilities will need to invest more than $50 billion to install and operate treatment technology over the next 20 years in order to comply with new PFAS drinking water standards. Additional analysis by Hazen & Sawyer estimates that a hazardous substance designation for PFOA and PFOS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act could add another $3.5 billion per year in disposal costs for the water sector, although this does not account for potential CERCLA liability costs that utilities could face.

“Drinking water utilities all across the country are on the front lines of public health protection every day," says Jason Dadakis, executive director of Water Quality & Technical Resources with the Orange County Water District in California. "The regulations for PFAS being proposed by EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act will place unprecedented financial strain on utilities to deal with a chemical that they had no role in producing. Unfortunately, CERCLA can be misused by responsible parties to entangle utilities in unnecessary and costly litigation. It is critical that Congress address this concern by ensuring water sector utilities are not left holding the bag for clean-up costs of chemicals they have no responsibility for making or distributing.”

Jeaniece Slater, general manager of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority in Decatur, Alabama, and member of the Alabama Rural Water Association Board of Directors, says PFAS chemicals are impacting utilities of all sizes and in all corners of the country. “But the challenges are especially acute for small and rural utilities that often have fewer resources to deal with new regulations and requirements. The reality is that, if Congress doesn’t act and protect water utilities from misplaced PFAS liability under CERCLA, small and rural utilities across the nation could find themselves and their communities bankrupt — essentially paying to clean-up the pollution created by private companies. Congress simply cannot allow this to happen.”

Nathan Gardner-Andrews, Chief Advocacy & Policy Officer for NACWA, says clean water utilities neither created nor profited from PFAS chemicals. “But under the current EPA regulatory approach, these utilities and their ratepayers will be stuck with the cleanup costs instead of the private companies that have made billions off these chemicals. NACWA has member utilities that have been impacted by significant litigation over a CERCLA cleanup for a pollutant they were not responsible for, and we know first hand the importance of protecting clean water utilities from unfair and misplaced liability.”

In addition to water sector PFAS cost projections, “Correcting PFAS Myths” reveals the fragility of the “polluter pays” principle under CERCLA and the added cost to water ratepayers that will result from EPA’s proposed CERCLA hazardous substance designation of PFOS and PFOA.

The report also looks at new technologies being proposed by regulators to reduce PFAS in drinking water and wastewater, including reverse osmosis and ion exchange, revealing high-tech is not the silver bullet that lawmakers would have us believe, and that Congress must hold the real polluters accountable for PFAS cleanup costs in order to have sustainable, affordable, remediation efforts.


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