The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a plan to evaluate the regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances. The PFAS Action Plan is a culmination of the Agency’s previous commitment to consider the need for additional regulation of this large class of chemicals.
PFAS are chemicals used in various consumer, commercial and industrial products, such as carpeting, apparels, upholstery, food wrappers, fire-fighting foams and metal plating. PFAS are known for their heat, water and oil resistant properties. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to growth, learning and behavioral problems, interference with natural hormones, and an increased risk of cancer.
The PFAS Action Plan contains both short-term and long-term plans to study the regulation of PFAS under federal laws including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The EPA’s investigation of unregulated uses of PFAS includes short-term initiatives that are scheduled to be completed within the next two years and longer-term initiatives for regulating PFAS that are projected to occur over more than two years.
In recent years, experts detected PFAS pollution in water supplies. The EPA required testing of most water utilities for the presence of PFAS chemicals between 2013 and 2015. In 2016, the EPA established the health advisory level for PFAS compounds to 70 parts per trillion, but arguments for stricter PFAS regulation abounded in light of reports concerning the negative effects of PFAS on public health.
Additionally, the EPA plans to evaluate the related chemicals PFOS and PFOA which have seldom been manufactured or used in the country since 2002 and 2015, respectively. These chemicals are known to break down very slowly and remain in the environment over a long period of time. As such they have become known as the “forever chemicals.” The EPA has promised to evaluate the regulation of the two detected compounds -PFOS and PFOA under the SDWA. Currently, the EPA regulates only a small number of contaminants under the SDWA. Instead, the states have assumed control over drinking water regulation in the past few decades. But experts and environmental groups are now putting increased pressure on the federal government to set national standards for these contaminants in drinking water.
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