EPA to Protect Against Toxic "Forever" PFAS Chemicals

EPA to regulate PFAS

The EPA announced Monday that it will move toward regulating perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) -- manmade "forever chemicals" -- that don't naturally break down and can contaminate both air and water. These chemicals, found in various household products, from dental floss to nonstick pans, can also be harmful to people's health. The agency will require manufacturers to test and publicly report the amount of PFAS in their products. Ultimately, some could be officially classified as hazardous chemicals.

According to data obtained by the Guardian, there are more than 120,000 facilities across the US where people could be exposed to PFAS -- four times more than previously reported.

Bloomberg Law: PFAS: The 'Forever Chemicals', September 26, 2019.

Why This Matters

The EPA's proposed data mandate will make the scale of PFAS contamination available to the public and inform better future regulation. Human exposure to PFAS can cause cancers, weaken the immune system, and harm the thyroid, so new policies could greatly benefit public health. And if the chemicals are officially classified as hazardous, it would allow the EPA to hold polluters responsible for contamination under the Superfund law, and put them on the hook for any clean-up and mitigation.

"It's massively overdue. It's decades overdue," environmental attorney Robert Bilott told the Washington Post. Bilott is the attorney who sued DuPont about contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a related compound. After decades of fighting PFAS, he hopes that the federal government will hold the chemical manufacturers (the "truly responsible parties" as he calls them) accountable this time. "This is a huge public health threat, and it's something that has just gone on way too long."

As if fossil fuel production and consumption wasn't harmful enough, the Guardian's analysis of industries using PFAS found oil and gas companies are the leading sector. The chemicals are used for the extraction processes, including fracking. A single county in Colorado has 8,000 PFAS handling sites, of which 7,900 are listed as oil and gas operations.