EPA will tackle ‘forever chemicals’

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it’s comprehensive Strategic Roadmap to confront per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination nationwide.

The plan is the result of a thorough analysis conducted by the EPA Council on PFAS that Administrator Regan established in April 2021.

EPA’s Roadmap is centered on three guiding strategies: Increase investments in research, leverage authorities to take action now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released into the environment, and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and other elected leaders will join Administrator Regan at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, for the announcement. 

“For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”

“This roadmap commits the EPA to quickly setting enforceable drinking water limits for these chemicals as well as giving stronger tools to communities to protect people’s health and the environment,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “As we continue partnering with the EPA on this and other important efforts, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the larger budget resolution would provide critical help by dedicating significant resources to address PFAS contamination.”

The Strategic Roadmap delivers on the agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment and answers the call for action on these persistent and dangerous chemicals.

Alongside the release of the roadmap, the agency is announcing a new national testing strategy that requires PFAS manufacturers to provide the agency with toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS chemicals. 

The PFAS to be tested will be selected based on an approach that breaks the large number of PFAS today into smaller categories based on similar features and considers what existing data are available for each category.

EPA’s initial set of test orders for PFAS, which are expected in a matter of months, will be strategically selected from more than 20 different categories of PFAS. This set of orders will provide the agency with critical information on more than 2,000 other similar PFAS that fall within these categories.

The Roadmap lays out:

  • Aggressive timelines to set enforceable drinking water limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure water is safe to drink in every community.
  • A hazardous substance designation under CERCLA, to strengthen the ability to hold polluters financially accountable.
  • Timelines for action—whether it is data collection or rulemaking—on Effluent Guideline Limitations under the Clean Water Act for nine industrial categories.
  • review of past actions on PFAS taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act to address those that are insufficiently protective.
  • Increased monitoring, data collection and research so that the agency can identify what actions are needed and when to take them.
  • A final toxicity assessment for GenX, which can be used to develop health advisories that will help communities make informed decisions to better protect human health and ecological wellness.
  • Continued efforts to build the technical foundation needed on PFAS air emissions to inform future actions under the Clean Air Act.  

“I’m encouraged that EPA is giving this urgent public health threat the attention and seriousness it deserves,” said Senator Tom Carper. “This is truly a soup-to-nuts plan—one that commits to cleaning up PFAS in our environment while also putting protections in place to prevent more of these forever chemicals from finding their way into our lives. After the previous administration failed to follow through on its plan to address PFAS contamination, EPA’s new leadership promised action. I look forward to working with them on living up to this commitment.”

“Communities contaminated by these toxic forever chemicals have waited decades for action,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “So, it’s good news that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s pledge to take quick action to reduce PFOA and PFOS in tap water, to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water, and to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances to hold polluters accountable.”

“It’s been more than 20 years since EPA first learned that toxic forever chemicals were building up in our blood, increasing the chance of suffering cancer and subjecting people to unknown health hazards,” said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey environmentalist. “This action is long overdue and EPA deserves credit for turning a corner on the Trump administration’s enabling the chemical industry’s widespread production, use, and discharge of PFAS, but the federal government cannot move fast enough to set deadlines, expand regulations and stop the pollution.”

“After four years of the Trump Administration’s enabling the chemical industry’s widespread production, use, and pollution of PFAS, the EPA should be sprinting towards adopting health protections, stopping exposure, and preventing the production and use of new class compounds,” said Daniel Rosenberg, a former environmental counsel to New Jersey’s late Senator Frank Lautenberg. “While the roadmap contains some potentially positive steps forward, the plans announced today are not enough, or fast enough, to tackle the ongoing PFAS crisis. As it heads down this road, EPA needs to regulate the chemical industry as a polluter—using all the tools Congress provided when it enacted the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and Superfund.”

“Years after the PFAS problem became clear, the EPA’s slow response in the Trump administration left millions of people to drink dangerously-contaminated water,” said Erik D. Olson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s important that today’s EPA is finally committing to specific dates to set tap water standards for two PFAS and to list them as hazardous under Superfund.”

“While we welcome several proposals in the Roadmap, the agency needs to act with great urgency to address this five-alarm fire and take action on the full class of these toxic forever chemicals,” said Olson. “The EPA must establish rigorous standards for cleaning up, phasing out, and regulating PFAS now to ensure we can drink from our kitchen taps without fear of endangering our family’s health.”

EPA’s Strategic Roadmap is a critical step forward in addressing PFAS pollution. Every level of government – from local, to state, to Tribal, to federal will need to exercise increased and sustained leadership to continue the momentum and make progress on PFAS. President Biden has called for more than $10 billion in funding to address PFAS contamination through his Build Back Better agenda and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. These critical resources will enable EPA and other federal agencies to scale up the research and work, so that they meet the scale of the PFAS challenge.

Over the coming weeks, EPA will be working to partner for progress on PFAS. The agency will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to continue to identify collaborative solutions to the PFAS challenge, including two national webinars that will be held on October 26 and November 2. Please RSVP to the webinars using the hyperlinked dates.  

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