Staying Updated on Regulations on Emerging Contaminants

Whether you refer to them as emerging contaminants or contaminants of emerging concern, it is already established that they are capable of causing ecological and/or damage to the human health. Interestingly, these contaminants are present almost everywhere; personal care products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, surfactants, and industrial chemicals. These contaminants can be present in drinking water, food sources, groundwater, waste water, surface water and more.  They can either be in form of chemicals and/or microorganisms. The issue lies in the absence of a known data on the environmental and human toxicology of these emerging contaminants.

The lack of a published and verifiable health criteria is reason why there are evolving regulations on the emerging contaminants. Despite the unknown but grave threats that these emerging contaminants may pose to the environment and most importantly the human health, most chemical users and manufacturers are unaware of the regulations surrounding the use and handling. So far, the scrutiny and regulations of these contaminants is on the increase. Both state and federal authorities are shining bright lights on these contaminants before any grievous incidents will be recorded.

In reality, these contaminants can be found everywhere; landfills, airports, chemical and textile plants, refineries, chrome plating industries, military base, firefighting training facilities and others. Usually, per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) are the most popular of these contaminants but there are also others such as GenX, PFOA, and PFOS. According to the Water Resources Committee Newsletter as published in 2018, there are already actions by several regulatory agencies, most notably is the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The regulatory body has put in place lifetime advisories on both PFOS and PFOA.

Despite the non-enforceability and non-regulatory nature of EPA advisories, this nonetheless has prompted regulatory actions in several states regulating these emerging contaminants. The only issue is the lack of uniformity by the states which may affect the compliance, enforcements and public opinion on the risk posed by these contaminants. Even though it has only offered an advisory, EPA is making bold steps by declaring these emerging compounds as hazardous substances. The EPA’s 70 ppt health advisories for PFAS is giving directions to states despite the lack of power at the federal level. This is the major reason why states like California, Colorado, Alabama, Florida, Delaware and others have taken a stand by relying on EPA advisories as enforceable standards.

Even with the regulatory issues surrounding PFAS, more states are considering regulatory actions. In North Carolina, the state environment regulatory agency, NCDEQ fined a company $12 million with additional $1 Million for investigative purposes with a requirement of providing safe drinking water for residents. This is just an example of the extents states are ready to go. For now, the regulatory power at the disposal of state regulatory agencies lies in renewal of environment permits. Despite being at its early stage, regulations are expected to broaden and more encompassing with time. Manufacturers should incline themselves to stringent sampling methods to stay ahead of these regulations.


“Emerging Contaminants.” Emerging Contaminants, United States Geological Survey,
Rosenfeld, Paul E. “Emerging Contaminant.” Emerging Contaminant, ScienceDirect Topics, 2011,
Roy, Nikki Delude, et al. “Regulatory Challenges Posed by Emerging Contaminants.” Water Resources Committee Newsletter, Mar. 2018.