WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is designating certain toxic industrial compounds used in cookware, carpets and fire-fighting foams as hazardous substances under so-called Superfund legislation.
The designation means that releases of long-lasting chemicals known as PFOAs and PFOSs that meet or exceed a certain amount must be reported to federal, state or tribal authorities. The EPA said the requirement will increase understanding of the extent and locations of contamination and help communities avoid or reduce exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals.
PFOA and PFOS have been voluntarily eliminated by US manufacturers, but they are still in limited use and remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time. The compounds are part of a larger group of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s.
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, cosmetics, and countless other consumer products.
The chemicals can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time, and evidence from animal and human studies indicates that exposure to PFOA or PFOS can cause cancer or other health problems.
“Communities have long suffered from exposure to these forever chemicals,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. “The action announced today will improve transparency and advance the EPA’s aggressive efforts to combat this pollution.”
Under the proposed rule, “the EPA will help protect communities from PFAS pollution and hold polluters accountable for their actions,” Regan said.
The EPA’s action follows a recent report from the National Academies of Science calling PFAS a serious public health threat in the US and around the world.
Regan said many sources of PFAS contamination are already in communities most affected by the pollution. He said the proposed rule would provide the agency with better data and the option to charge cleanup costs to need cleanup and protect public health.
The move follows an EPA announcement in June that PFOA and PFOS are more dangerous than previously thought and also present a health risk at such a low level that they are currently undetectable.
The agency issued a non-binding health advisory that sets the health exposure limits for PFOA and PFOS to near zero, replacing the 2016 guidelines, which had set them at 70 parts per trillion. The chemicals are found in products including cardboard packaging, carpets and fire extinguisher foam and are increasingly found in drinking water.
The EPA said in a statement that it is focused on holding accountable those who have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment. The agency also said it is committed to greater outreach and engagement to hear from communities affected by PFAS pollution.
Many states set their drinking water limits to address PFAS contamination that is much more difficult than federal guidance.
The revised health guidelines, released in June, are based on new science and take into account lifetime exposure to the chemicals. Officials no longer believe the PFAS levels allowed under the 2016 guidelines are safe from adverse health effects, an EPA spokesperson said.
Attorney Rob Billott, the anti-PFAS advocate, said that the EPA’s proposal “sends a loud and clear message to the entire world that the United States is finally now acknowledging the overwhelming evidence and accepting that these man-made poisons are not safe for the public.” present a substantial threat to health and the environment.”
Billot, whose work highlighting the widespread presence of PFAS chemicals in the environment and human blood was highlighted in the 2019 film “Dark Waters,” represents states, water providers and others affected by PFAS contamination. He said in a statement that the designation of any hazardous substance under the Superfund law should be enforced so that the cost of cleaning up the toxic substances that cause pollution is borne by the PFAS manufacturers – “the innocent victims of this pollution are not Those who haven’t built up toxins. And they were never warned that this was ever going to happen.”
The EPA said it expects to propose national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with a final rule expected in 2023.