EPA to Designate PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ as Hazardous Substances, Compel Companies to Report Spills
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took its most substantive action yet to regulate toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals” because of their longevity. Exposure to PFAS has been tied to cancer outbreaks.
In a Friday announcement, the EPA said it would designate two of the most commonly used PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.”
The change would require companies to report spills of the chemicals to the EPA and could also require them to cover the costs of cleanup, which can be substantial.
“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals. The action announced today will improve transparency and advance EPA’s aggressive efforts to confront this pollution, as outlined in the Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
“Under this proposed rule, EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.”
Their nickname of “forever chemicals” comes from their resistance to breaking down in nature or in the human body, allowing them to accumulate for long periods of time. Exposure in this way can lead to cancer and cause negative reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.
© Screenshot/LivingbyyyzA Red Air flight arriving at Florida's Miami International Airport from the Dominican Republic caught fire late Tuesday after a landing gear malfunction. Three travelers were transported to a local hospital for minor injuries.
A Red Air flight arriving at Florida's Miami International Airport from the Dominican Republic caught fire late Tuesday after a landing gear malfunction. Three travelers were transported to a local hospital for minor injuries.
According to the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the EPA has 180 designated Superfund sites across the US, where substantial leakage of PFAS into the surrounding land and water has been identified.
The most common method of introduction is the increasingly common use of fluorinated firefighting foams, Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF), to fight aircraft fires at airports and air bases. While such fires are rare, ground crews regularly practice responding to fires, expending copious amounts of AFFF in the process.
Since 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has pushed the industry toward adopting less pollutive fluorine-free foams for training and reserving PFAS foams for true emergencies.
Other uses for PFAS chemicals include non-stick coating on cookware, raincoats, and food packaging, because of their resistance to both water and oils.
While PFAS can be incredibly concentrated in the water and soil near Superfund sites, there is increasing evidence that it has spread much further. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported in February that the well water of more than 100 million Americans was contaminated with PFAS, although the agency conceded that the number was likely an underestimation because private wells without PFAS filters were not included in the study.
Actor Mark Ruffalo, who has become a prominent voice for banning PFAS, said the EPA’s decision would help hold pollutive companies and the US military accountable.
“We have all paid for decades - in the forms of higher health care costs and higher drinking water bills - for one of the greatest environmental crimes in history,” he said, according to the New York Times.