EPA wants to label certain ‘eternal chemicals’ as hazardous substances

By Jen Christensen, CNN

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that it is proposing to label certain “forever chemicals” that are found in hundreds of household items and pollute drinking water systems across the country as hazardous substances.

There are thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals. Since the 1940s, manufacturers have used the chemicals to make coatings and products that can repel water, grease, heat and oil. The chemicals break down slowly over time and seep into water and soil, and have been found in the blood of people and animals.

The latest science suggests that these chemicals are far more dangerous to human health than scientists originally thought, and are likely more dangerous at levels thousands of times lower than previously believed. Exposure to the chemical can lead to reproductive problems, heart problems, respiratory problems, cancer, and problems with the immune system.

The new EPA proposal is to designate two of the most widely used PFAS – PFOA and PFOS – as hazardous substances under Superfund regulations. The EPA said it will post the proposed rule on the Federal Register in the coming weeks. This would give the public 60 days to comment before the rule is finalized.

If the proposal is finalized, releases of certain quantities of these chemicals will need to be reported to the government. The EPA believes this would encourage companies to have better waste management practices at facilities that handle the chemical.

The EPA said the rule could also require the polluter to pay fines and cleanup fees.

In June, the EPA significantly reduced the recommended limits for these chemicals. For the first time, the EPA has also issued final advisories for drinking water limits for the chemical PFAS GenX.

“Communities have suffered for far too long from exposure to these perennial chemicals. The action announced today will improve transparency and advance EPA’s aggressive efforts to address this pollution, as outlined in the Roadmap Agency’s PFAS Strategy,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in an agency press release. “Under this proposed rule, EPA will help both protect communities against PFAS pollution and will seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.”

Over the past decade, chemical manufacturers have voluntarily stopped producing PFOS and PFOA. At the federal level, the United States Food and Drug Administration phased out the use of certain PFAS chemicals in 2016. The FDA and manufacturers agreed in 2020 to phase out certain PFAS chemicals from food packaging and other items that have come into contact with food. However, environmental monitoring by the FDA has shown that the chemicals tend to linger.

Testing by the non-profit organization Toxic-Free Future found that 74% of imported products still contain older PFAS chemicals.

These chemicals can easily migrate through air, dust, food, soil and water. People can also be exposed to it through food packaging and industrial work.

PFAS have also been found in high concentrations at military bases around the country. The US Department of Defense said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on PFAS-related search and cleanup efforts.

In the body, chemicals are mainly deposited in the blood, kidneys and liver. A 2007 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that PFAS chemicals could be detected in 98% of the US population.

Tim Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that works on issues of environmental ethics and scientific integrity, said the EPA’s latest decision is just a small step in the fight. to end PFAS pollution.

“EPA actions are too few and too late,” Whitehouse said. “This administration and previous administrations have tried not to upset chemical companies and communities are suffering.”

Whitehouse said a Superfund designation means some sites could be cleaned up using Superfund funds and Superfund designations, but it will take years.

“A few communities may benefit from the proposed rule, but it doesn’t solve the problem, and the problem is that the EPA refuses to develop management standards for PFAS waste,” Whitehouse said. Since they are still chemicals, there is no real, safe way to get rid of them.

“We’re just going to have more and more Superfund sites. So it’s just a band-aid on a problem that’s being created every day,” Whitehouse said. “It only solves a problem that has already been created instead of stopping future problems.”

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