As regulations for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to be developed across the US, this article provides an update of their continued development and newly proposed regulations. Most recently, this fall, MassDEP published its finalized PFAS maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards for the state of Massachusetts, establishing a regulatory limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds. These six compounds, designated as PFAS6, include PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFDA. Large public water suppliers serving a population of 50,000 or more will be required to begin PFAS6 compliance monitoring on January 1, 2021, followed by smaller communities later in the year. Full details on the development of the standards is available on the MassDEP website, here.

PFAS Background

PFAS compounds are a group of man-made chemicals that are resistant to heat, water and oil, and have been traditionally used in a wide range of consumer products and industrial applications including food packaging, clothing, fire-fighting foams and upholstery.

It has been reported that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels has been linked to a variety of health problems in the liver, kidneys, immune system, and nervous system, and may also cause developmental and reproductive issues such as low birth weight, accelerated puberty and skeletal changes. Research has suggested links to cancer, thyroid disease, and endocrine disruption.

Current and Proposed Regulation

Federal Regulation

No federal MCL has been established for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. However, the US EPA established a combined public health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water in June 2016. The third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3) monitored several PFAS compounds in public water systems (results published in the July 2016 National Contaminant Occurrence Database). PFOA and PFOS were shown to occur in water systems and regulating them presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The EPA had added both PFOA and PFOS to the Contaminant Candidate List 3 (CCL3) in 2009 and to the Contaminant Candidate List 4 (CCL4) in November of 2016 for regulatory action.

State Regulation

Many states have taken a stringent approach to PFAS in their drinking water. The table below presents a summary of how the EPA and these states are currently handling the various PFAS chemicals with similar effects to those by PFOS and PFOA, as of the date of this article.

USEPA and State Drinking Water Values for PFAS (parts per trillion; ppt)

Health Advisories
70 (sum of both)
DPH Drinking Water Action Levels
70 (sum of five)
USEPA Health Advisories
70 (sum of both)
USEPA Health Advisories
70 (sum of both)
DEP Drinking Water Standards
20 (sum of six, "PFAS6")
New Hampshire
NHDES Drinking Water Standards
New Jersey
NJDEP Drinking Water Standards
New York State
DH Drinking Water Standards
DH Drinking Water and Groundwater Standards
20 (sum of five)


Public water systems may be able to reduce PFAS chemical concentrations by stopping the use of contaminated wells or by blending water sources if allowed. Treatment processes that can remove PFAS chemicals from drinking water include activated carbon, ion exchange or high-pressure membrane systems (e.g., reverse osmosis). The more conventional water treatment technologies are not typically effective for PFAS removal.

Wright-Pierce is currently helping several communities solve their PFAS issues, including some which are being funded through a PFAS Grant program.  If you have questions about current or proposed guidelines for PFAS or want to learn more about the treatment of these chemicals, contact us today.