WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday decided to designate two “forever chemicals” used in kitchen utensils, carpets and fire-fighting foams as hazardous substances, a step that would pave the way for faster cleaning of toxic compounds, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems .
Designation as a hazardous substance under the so-called Superfund Act does not prohibit chemicals. But it requires that releases of PFOA and PFOS to soil or water be reported to federal, state or tribal authorities if they reach or exceed certain levels. The EPA could then require cleanups to protect public health and recoup cleanup costs.
PFOA and PFOS have been voluntarily phased out by US manufacturers, but their use is still limited and remains in the environment because they do not degrade over time. Compounds are part of a larger group of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS which have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s. The term is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been used in non-stick frying pans, cooking equipment sports water repellents, stain resistant carpets, 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 lead to cancer or other health problems. health.
“Communities have suffered from exposure to these chemicals forever for too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. “The action announced today will improve transparency and advance the EPA’s aggressive efforts to address this pollution.
Under the proposed rule, “EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions,” Regan said. The rule is expected to become final next year.
The Superfund Act allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and requires parties responsible for the contamination to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for cleanup work directed by the EPA. When no responsible party can be identified, Superfund gives money and authority to the EPA to clean up contaminated sites.
The EPA’s action follows a recent National Academies of Science report that called PFAS a serious threat to public health in the United States and around the world. This follows an announcement by the EPA in June that PFOA and PFOS are more dangerous than previously thought and pose health risks, even at levels so low that they currently cannot be detected.
The agency has issued non-binding health advisories that set the health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS at near zero, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion. The chemicals are found in products such as cardboard packaging, carpets and fire-fighting foam and are increasingly found in drinking water.
The EPA said in a statement that it is focused on holding accountable companies that have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment and will not target landowners or farmers. individuals “who may have been inadvertently affected by the contamination”. The agency also said it is committed to increasing awareness and engagement to hear from communities affected by PFAS pollution.
Erik Olson, health and food expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the announcement an important step in cleaning up hundreds of contaminated sites across the country and protecting millions of families exposed to toxic chemicals.
“Listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under the Superfund Act should enable the EPA to hold polluters accountable for this contamination,” he said. “Taxpayers and utilities should not foot the bill for decades of voluntary industry use of these dangerous chemicals.”
Attorney Rob Bilott, an anti-PFAS advocate, said the EPA’s proposal “Send a loud and clear message to the world that the United States finally recognizes and accepts the now overwhelming evidence that these man-made poisons pose a substantial danger to public health and the environment.”
Bilott, whose work to uncover the widespread presence of PFAS chemicals in the environment and in human blood was highlighted in the 2019 film “Dark Waters” said the EPA must ensure that the costs of cleaning up toxins are borne by the PFAS manufacturers that caused the contamination – “not the innocent victims of this pollution who didn’t create the toxins and were never told this was happening.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., said she supports strong action to address PFAS contamination in West Virginia and across the country, but is concerned about the “unintended consequences that the proposed ‘today might have’.
If finalized, “landlords, farmers, employers, essential utilities and individuals can be held liable for unknowingly having PFAS on their land, even if there were years or even generations before the property and that they came from an unknown source,” Capito said.
She urged the EPA to develop an enforceable drinking water standard to promote the health and safety of all Americans.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical companies, called the EPA’s proposal “an expensive, inefficient and impractical way to address these chemicals.”
Listing the chemicals under Superfund could hurt local fire departments, water utilities, small businesses, airports and farmers, the group said. “The proposed (Superfund) designation would impose enormous costs on these parties without defined cleaning standards,” the council said in a statement.
The EPA said it plans to propose national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with a final rule expected in 2023.