The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will provide $2 billion to address emerging contaminants in drinking or source water in small or disadvantaged communities. EPA announced its plans to fund the mitigation of pollutants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, on Feb. 13.

Additionally, the agency says it hopes to propose in coming weeks a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation for PFAS that would set maximum levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—the two most studied chemical compounds within the broad class of PFAS—that can be present in drinking water without requiring treatment. 

A draft proposal is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget.  

The PFAS mitigation project funding is the first installment of the total $5 billion to be allocated under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over a five-year period. EPA says the initial allotment of $2 billion to states and territories can be used to prioritize infrastructure and source water treatment for pollutants such as PFAS and other emerging contaminants, as well as technical assistance and testing.

While there is no time frame yet, the funds will be distributed to the recipient states through EPA’s new Emerging Contaminants in Small and Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program, to be granted on a noncompetitive basis to communities across the U.S. and to territories with about $20 million of those funds set aside for tribes, according to the agency.

“Too many American communities, especially those that are small, rural or underserved, are suffering from exposure to PFAS and other harmful contaminants in their drinking water,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement. 

Several states and territories will receive sizable portions of the $2-billion allotment, including Colorado gaining nearly $86 million; New Jersey more than $66 million; New York nearly $84 million; and Puerto Rico, nearly $19 million. 

Matthew Holmes, CEO of the National Rural Water Association, says the funding “is an impressive start” that will benefit many of his group's members. He says that larger systems, with a broader customer base, can better afford to design and build a granular activated carbon (GAC) or other resource-intensive treatment system. "For small communities, to stretch that out over 2,000 customers or 500 or 20, it just doesn’t pencil out,” he adds.

Holmes notes that the grant program does not provide funding for ongoing operations and maintenance of any systems that are built. “Even if you identify a solution to the problem," he says, "there is still going to be a need for capacity building and technical assistance to find some way for the customer base to afford the ongoing operations.” 

Mark White, CDM Smith’s drinking water practice leader, says that GAC or ion exchange are usually the lowest-cost types of treatment for small systems. Another more affordable option, he says, is to connect a smaller water distribution system to a larger utility, depending on how much pipe is needed to connect the two systems.  “Small utilities often resist connecting to larger systems because they cannot control the rates, although sometimes a small utility is simply postponing necessary maintenance and upgrades and that is what is keeping their rates temporarily low,” White says.

 This article was updated on February 16 to incorporate a comment from CDM Smith's Mark White.