At a public hearing on March 6, 2019, the California State Water Resources Control Board announced a “Phased Investigation Plan” for perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The Investigation Plan represents a coordinated effort by the Water Board to identify PFAS in discharges and drinking water sources across California.  This new initiative leverages the Board’s enforcement and permitting powers to order testing and will proceed in three phases.  Under each phase, the Water Board will issue orders to the covered facilities requiring at least one round of testing of their discharge to identify whether PFAS are present.

Phase 1 will target airports and landfills, along with sources of drinking water within a 1-mile radius of systems that historically have been identified as having PFAS in their discharge.  Testing orders under Phase 1 may be received as soon as this month.  Phase 2 will focus on discharges from refineries, bulk terminals, and certain facilities for firefighting training, while Phase 3 will cover an as-yet-undetermined set of “secondary” manufacturers.

The Investigation Plan appears to be the start of a long-term regulatory focus on PFAS in California, notably following on the heels of U.S. EPA’s own PFAS Action Plan (discussed in a previous blog post here) and coming less than a year after California issued interim notification levels for two high-profile PFAS, PFOA and PFOS. Notably, state officials at the same public hearing disclaimed an intent to set state-level Maximum Contaminant Levels (“MCL”) for any PFAS, at least in 2019. Nevertheless, the regulated community should expect that the data collected through the Investigation Plan will be a key piece of information that the Water Board will use to later decide whether and how low to set a California MCL for PFAS, including whether to establish a class-wide regulatory framework or to focus on individual PFAS, like PFOA or PFOS.

Industry targets and observers will want to closely follow the interaction of the state and federal PFAS initiatives throughout 2019 and beyond.  We will continue to monitor both the Investigation Plan and Action Plan as they continue to unfold.