EPA has shown a little love for states wanting action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). On February 14, 2019, EPA announced its PFAS Action Plan, calling it “the most comprehensive, cross- agency action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the Agency.” The Action Plan consists of 23 priority action items with the majority identified as short-term or generally taking place or expected to be completed in the next two years.
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Because of their widespread environmental presence, persistence and bioaccumulation, the group of substances known as PFAS have been described as a “Perfect Storm” of liability. The number of plaintiff’s suits concerning PFAS have spiked in the last few years. Also, EPA faces increasing bipartisan calls from Congress to adopt new drinking water standards and cleanup levels. In the interim, states are filling the void. In October 2017, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection  announced a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA. Some NGO’s have called for levels as low as 1 part per trillion.
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Effective July 13, 2018, the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW) established drinking water notification levels of 14 ppt for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS, and a combined PFOA/PFOS drinking water response level of 70 ppt. Notification and response levels are non-binding, health-based advisory levels for contaminants in drinking water where maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) have not been promulgated. Establishment of notification and response levels often is the DDW’s first step toward adopting binding MCLs.
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New chemicals of concern, new scientific and technical developments, newly discovered wastes, or natural disasters can add up to new CERCLA liabilities. When the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) was passed in 1980, it did not address the finality of judgments and settlements for the cleanup of contaminated sites. Some early settlements with EPA provided a complete release from all future CERCLA liability, but that later changed when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) began to limit the scope of covenants not to sue to specified “matters covered” by the settlement. The 1986 CERCLA amendments in section 122(f)(6), 42 U.S.C. § 9622(f)(6)(1) permanently made the change to require “reopeners” in all but a few limited circumstances.
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