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  • Posted April 22, 2024

EPA Designates Two 'Forever Chemicals' as Hazardous

Two common PFAS "forever chemicals" have been deemed hazardous substances by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new designation, enacted under the country's Superfund law, will let the EPA investigate and clean up leaks and spills of these harmful chemicals, agency officials said Friday.

It will also mean polluters can be charged for the clean-up of contaminations involving these chemicals.

The two chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), belong to a larger class of per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS). These chemicals take a long time to break down in the environment and in the human body.

“Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in an agency news release announcing the move.

PFAS were used in products like Teflon and firefighting foam for decades. They can still be found in hundreds of household items and in drinking water systems. They are believed to be in the blood of 98% of the human population.

Studies have shown they are a threat to human health and can cause cancer and birth defects. Exposure to “forever chemicals” has been linked to cancers, heart and liver disease and immune and developmental damage to infants and children, according to the EPA.

In addition to the final rule, the EPA issued a separate enforcement policy that stresses the agency will target companies that have contributed significantly to the manufacturing and release of these chemicals into the environment.

“For far too long, the unchecked use and disposal of toxic PFAS have wreaked havoc on our planet, contaminating everything from our drinking water to our food supply,” Dr. David Andrews, deputy director of investigations and a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “Urgent action is needed to clean up contaminated sites, eliminate future release of these pollutants and shield people from additional exposure.”

Environmentalists said the EPA's announcement was a good start, CNN reported, but groups like the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research and Policy Center have called on the EPA to ban all PFAS chemicals. There are more than 12,000 forms of PFAS in the environment.

“No one should have to worry in 2024 about whether their well water, farm produce or even clothing is contaminated with toxic chemicals, but unfortunately that's the reality for millions of Americans,” Lisa Frank, executive director of Environment America Research and Policy Center's Washington office, said in a statement. “This announcement is a critical step toward getting PFAS out of our waterways and making polluters pay. Now, we need to turn off the tap on toxic PFAS everywhere.”

The EPA noted the new designations are part of the Biden administration's larger efforts to safeguard communities from PFAS contamination.

The new designations come less than two weeks after the EPA announced stringent new limits for “forever chemicals” in U.S. drinking water.

More information

The EPA has more on PFAS.

SOURCE: Environmental Protection Agency, news release, April 19, 2024; CNN

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