In July 2006, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to promulgate drinking water and waste site cleanup standards for perchlorate, an emerging contaminant that was previously unregulated by any state or the federal government. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) engaged stakeholders in this groundbreaking effort to gather and exchange information on perchlorate sources, occurrence, health risks, analytical monitoring methods and treatment techniques. Based on this information MassDEP established a standard of 2 parts per billion for this emerging contaminant. MassDEP's successful process for addressing Perchlorate provided a model for how the agency will address other emerging contaminants that may not be adequately regulated and also led to the establishment of an Emerging Contaminant Workgroup. This proactive MassDEP effort is aimed at identifying new potential public health and environmental problems and providing a process for deciding if and how MassDEP can or should address them.
Establishing an Emerging Contaminant Strategy & Process
After promulgating perchlorate standards in July 2006, MassDEP made a decision to refocus its multi-program Perchlorate Workgroup on emerging contaminants. The goal of the newly established Emerging Contaminant Workgroup is to identify and assess public health and environmental problems associated with presently unregulated contaminants or contaminants that are not adequately regulated and to recommend agency strategies for managing these contaminants. The Workgroup centralizes MassDEP's focus on emerging contaminants, fosters information exchange, and brings together a broad range of cross-program expertise.
The Workgroup has defined emerging contaminants as hazardous materials or mixtures (naturally occurring or manmade chemical, microbial or radiological substances) that are characterized by having:
- a perceived or real threat to human health, public safety or the environment;
- no published health standards or guidelines;
- insufficient or limited available toxicological information or toxicity information that is evolving or being re-evaluated; or,
- significant new source, pathway, or detection limit information.
The MassDEP Workgroup has developed a preliminary list of emerging contaminants based on Departmental databases and professional experience and has established a framework to screen and prioritize these contaminants. Future work will involve developing recommended strategies for how MassDEP should address contaminants nominated for action.
The preliminary list is comprised of about 80 emerging contaminants. Approximately 30 of these have been placed on a Watch List for further information gathering, 9 have been identified as long-term priorities for further evaluation and 4 have been nominated for short-term actions. The list will be updated every 6 months, followed by screening and prioritization.
Short-term actions currently underway include participation in a collaborative study with the University of Massachusetts (Amherst Campus) and Earth Tech of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and Pharmaceutical & Personal Care Products - FAQs in drinking water. This study will assess whether and how water supply treatment affects their levels and composition. MassDEP is also developing waste site cleanup standards for RDX and is re-evaluating the toxicity of tetrachloroethylene. Longer term priorities include nanoparticles, bromated flame retardants and the toxicity of tungsten, methyl tertiary butyl ether and trichloroethylene.
The Department has received some external input from program advisory committees and other state agencies on its emerging contaminants work effort. This webpage describes the Department's current thinking about a process to identify emerging contaminants and the results of applying that process (i.e., contaminants at the top of the list). The Department remains committed to involving key stakeholders and the public in this effort and is planning to embark on a structured approach for receiving additional external input in the Fall of 2007.
Contaminant Screening Process
MassDEP has prepared an emerging contaminant screening process to identify contaminants that the Department needs to maintain an awareness of and/or actively address. This process will help to ensure that MassDEP is aware of unregulated contaminants or contaminants that are not adequately regulated and is prepared to take steps as necessary to protect public health and the environment. MassDEP's definition of emerging contaminants is integral to identifying contaminants that are selected as priorities and/or nominated for action. MassDEP's preliminary list of emerging contaminants is developed from database scans and based upon the knowledge of workgroup members and stakeholders regarding the presence of contaminants and potential exposure pathways, including awareness of high visibility issues.
The first step in the screening process considers the following criteria:
- Use of professional judgment regarding the importance of the contaminant issue;
- Current and timely work on the contaminant by US EPA and/or other states to ensure MassDEP is not duplicating efforts;
- Whether MassDEP or other agencies have or are working on a standard or guideline for the contaminant based on the most current scientific information; and
- Consideration of MassDEP's jurisdiction and authorities to address the issue.
This screening process leads to a Watch List of contaminants or contaminants that MassDEP needs to maintain an awareness of, because these chemicals are likely to be in the Massachusetts environment and more information is needed on them to determine if follow up action is warranted.
Step 2 of the screening process is to identify priority contaminants of which a subset will be nominated for the Commissioner's consideration for short-term action. Step 2 screening of the Watch List considers the availability of existing science on the contaminant, certainty in the science and a consideration of strategies that could be used to address each contaminant, including tangible outcomes. Higher priority is given to cross-media contaminants.
MassDEP updates its preliminary list every six months and is utilizing its screening process so the Watch and Priority Lists are continually evolving as new information develops.
Emerging Contaminant Priority List
- Pharmaceutical & Personal Care Products - FAQs and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals - Research collaboration with the University of Massachusetts
- RDX (Cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine) - Set Waste Site Cleanup Standards
- Tetrachloroethylene - Review MassDEP's Cancer Risk Value
- Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) (brominated flame retardants)
For More Information
Workgroup: Contact Carol Rowan West, Director of the MassDEP Office of Research & Standards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-292-5510.
Establishing a Perchlorate Drinking Water Standard
Perchlorate is a chemical found in blasting agents, fireworks, military munitions and other manufacturing processes. Perchlorate interferes with thyroid function and, consequently, can impair human development and metabolism. Perchlorate contamination was initially thought to be a concern primarily in the vicinity of current or former military operations. However, after statewide testing of public water supplies, perchlorate was detected in more than 10 systems, many of which appeared to be impacted by non-military sources of the contaminant. After intensive study and stakeholder involvement, MassDEP determined that drinking water and waste site cleanup standards were needed to protect the public, especially pregnant women and children, from a compound for which no state or federal drinking water standard existed. Keys steps used by MassDEP to address perchlorate and to set standards were:
- A rigorous scientific evaluation of the risks posed by perchlorate,
- A comprehensive and innovative collaboration with major stakeholders, and
- An effective outreach program to help manage the risk.
Scientific Evaluation. MassDEP met with its scientific advisory committee, to evaluate the health risks posed by perchlorate and to develop appropriate solutions. Scientists from the US Department Of Defense (Army, Navy, and Air Force), and members of the National Academy of Science's Perchlorate Committee presented information to the Committee and participated in the Committee's discussions. Because MassDEP's assessment emphasized protecting infants and addressing concerns about breast milk exposures, MassDEP's work led to a lower reference dose than established by other groups.
Stakeholder Collaboration. MassDEP, working with both the Massachusetts and New England Water Works Associations, held forums across the state to inform and get feedback from water suppliers about perchlorate sources, the health effects of perchlorate on sensitive subgroups, and the state's process for setting drinking water and waste site cleanup standards.
Outreach Programs. MassDEP found perchlorate in water supplies close to blasting operations and communities with annual fireworks displays . Consequently, agency personnel met with local quarrying companies, the Institute of Makers of Explosives and the International Society of Explosives Engineers to learn more about their products and blasting practices. As a result of this and other research, MassDEP published guidance for blasting and for firework contractors on practices to prevent contamination, and worked with industry and municipal partners to widely distribute this information.