PFOA and PFOS… It’s Not Going Away

Posted on June 2nd, 2020

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, C8) molecule

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), chemicals are mobile, soluble in water and persistent in the environment  These chemicals are the subject of recent documentaries including The Devil We Know and Dark WatersThe durability of PFOA/PFOS made them attractive for many commercial and industrial applications. Both PFOA and PFOS were previously used in aqueous film-forming foams for firefighting and training at military and civilian sites, and are found in consumer products such as stain-resistant coatings for upholstery and carpets, water-resistant outdoor clothing, and grease-proof food packaging. PFOA has also been used as a processing aid in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers used in non-stick cookware and other products, while PFOS was used in metal plating and finishing. 

It is clear that PFOA/PFOS are a top priority for the NJDEP. To date, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only other states to advance formal standards for PFAS. One June 1, 2020 the NJDEP officially published/adopted amendments to several rules to address these compounds. Specifically the Department 

  1. Amended the List of Hazardous Substances to include the acidic and anionic forms of PFOA and PFOS and their salts and esters
  2. Amended the Ground Water Quality Standards to establish a specific ground water quality standard for PFOA of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) (µg/l) and a specific ground water quality standard for PFOS of 13 ppt
  3. Amended the Private Well Testing Act rules at N.J.A.C. 7:9E to require testing of private wells subject to sale or lease for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), PFOA, and PFOS and to require testing of newly constructed wells for public noncommunity water systems and nonpublic water systems for PFNA, PFOA, and PFOS
  4. Amended the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act rules at N.J.A.C. 7:10 to establish an MCL for PFOA of 14 ppt and an MCL for PFOS of 13 ppt 
  5. Amended the NJPDES rules at N.J.A.C. 7:14A by adding PFNA, PFOA, and PFOS to the Permit Application Testing Requirements/Pollutant Listings and the Requirements for Discharges to Ground Water

These new standards are slightly higher than the interim specific groundwater standards for PFOA and PFOS of 10 ppt that were put into place in March of 2019.  

IMay of 2019 the NJDEP issued guidance that all active site remediation cases conduct an evaluation for PFOA and PFOS and indicated that the evaluation shall be completed and reported as part of the next remedial phase submittalParties that may be toward the end of their investigation or remediation may now be forced to go back and address these contaminants at significant unanticipated cost.  The NJDEP went further and indicated that closed cases that received a response action outcome (RAO) but have a NJDEP issued Remedial Action Permit require an PFOA/PFOS evaluation that “must be performed prior to and reported in the next biennial protectiveness certification”.   

These new standards and the requirement to evaluate and address PFOA/PFOS is having significant impacts on site remediation cases in New Jersey. JMS has completed PFOA/PFOS evaluations at our active sites and found several where PFOA/PFOS sampling was required. Where JMS has conducted investigations, we have identified PFOA/PFOS compounds in groundwater often at very low concentrations that are still in excess of the NJDEP standards. At that point, a background investigation is completed to determine if there is an indication of an on-site source. Where a PFOA/PFOS source is confirmed or the background investigation is inconclusive it becomes challenging. There are no NJDEP soil standards for PFOA/PFOS at this time, and the effective treatments for PFOA/PFOS contamination are not well developed and are expensive.  

As a result of the challenges described above PFOA/PFOS is a sticky issue that should be carefully considered during due diligenceWhile it is easy to ignore PFOA/PFOS as an emerging (but not current) concern, the question is… what will the standard of evaluation for these contaminants look like in the future?  


Peter Sorge 

Environmental Scientist and LSRP 


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