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An analysis of the use of the relative source contribution term in derivation of drinking water standards using perfluorooctanoic acid as an example

By Analise Lindborg, Scientist
Judi L. Durda, Chief Strategy Officer

Publishing Journal: Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

First published: 15 July 2022,


The relative source contribution (RSC) term has long been used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and state regulatory agencies in setting criteria in water. The RSC reflects the proportion of the total daily intake of a chemical that can be derived from water when all other sources of exposure (e.g., food, air) are considered. This term is applied by the USEPA and state regulatory agencies when deriving ambient water quality criteria, maximum contaminant level goals, and drinking water health advisories for noncarcinogenic and threshold carcinogenic compounds. The value assigned to the RSC term affects the calculated criteria directly, with the allowable concentration in water decreasing with a decreasing RSC. A default RSC value of 20% – applied by regulatory entities in the USA for more than 40 years – assumes that 80% of an individual’s exposure to a chemical’s reference dose is from nonwater sources. Although the RSC is a chemical-specific parameter, there are few instances where a value other than the default of 20% has been approved and used. In 2000, USEPA outlined the process for developing chemical-specific RSC values, yet primary use of the default RSC value has continued since then. This article reviews USEPA’s methodology for deriving chemical-specific RSC values and provides a case example using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to explore how the USEPA and state regulatory agencies are applying USEPA’s guidance. The case study highlights inconsistent derivation of the RSC term, rooted in limitations in the current method­ ology. We suggest additional clarification of and more thoughtful use of the available data that may not meet USEPA’s current adequacy requirements. We also recommend that the USEPA discuss recommendations for using biomonitoring data to set RSCs. lntegr Environ Assess Manag 2022;00:1-8.

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Ambient water quality criteria, Chemical exposure contribution, Maximum contaminant level goals, Perfluorooctanoic acid, Relative source contribution.


This work was written and supported entirely by Integral Consulting Inc. employees. This work was funded entirely by the authors’ organization. No outside funding sources con­ tributed to this work.


Analise Lindborg, Judi Durda, and Ann Bradley


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