Earlier this week on August 25, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a significant step under Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap in an effort to protect people and communities from the health risks posed by certain PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.”
EPA is proposing to designate two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.”
The proposal applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, and, according to EPA’s press release, is based on significant evidence that PFOA and PFOS may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare or the environment. According to various reports, PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and evidence from laboratory animal and human epidemiology studies indicates that exposure to PFOA and/or PFOS may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.
If finalized, the rulemaking would trigger reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases, providing the EPA with improved data and the option to require cleanups and recover cleanup costs to protect public health and encourage better waste management.
EPA is also focused on holding responsible those who have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment. In its press release, the EPA announces that they will use enforcement discretion and other approaches to ensure fairness for minor parties who may have been inadvertently impacted by the contamination. EPA is also doing further outreach and engagement to hear from impacted communities, wastewater utilities, businesses, farmers and other parties during the consideration of the proposed rule.
If this designation is finalized, releases of PFOA and PFOS that meet or exceed the reportable quantity would have to be reported to the National Response Center, state or Tribal emergency response commissions, and the local or Tribal emergency planning committees.
EPA stated that they anticipate that a final rule would encourage better waste management and treatment practices by facilities handling PFOA or PFOS. The reporting of a release could potentially accelerate privately financed cleanups and mitigate potential adverse impacts to human health and the environment.
Additionally, the proposed rule would, in certain circumstances, facilitate making the polluter pay by allowing EPA to seek to recover cleanup costs from a potentially responsible party or to require such a party to conduct the cleanup. In addition, federal entities that transfer or sell their property will be required to provide a notice about the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA or PFOS on the property and a covenant (commitment in the deed) warranting that it has cleaned up any resulting contamination or will do so in the future, if necessary, as required under CERCLA 120(h).
EPA will be publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register in the next several weeks. Upon publication, there will be a 60-day public comment period.
As a subsequent step, EPA anticipates issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking after the close of the comment period on its proposal to seek public comment on designating other PFAS chemicals as CERCLA hazardous substances.
EPA has taken a number of recent actions on PFAS including:
• Releasing drinking water health advisories for 4 PFAS – using the best available science to attempt to address PFAS pollution, protect public health, and provide critical information quickly and transparently;
• Making available $1 billion in grant funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law;
• Issuing the first Toxic Substances Control Act PFAS test order under the National PFAS Testing Strategy;
• Adding five PFAS Regional Screening and Removal Management Levels that EPA uses to help determine if cleanup is needed;
• Publishing draft aquatic life water quality criteria for PFOA and PFOS;
• Issuing a memo to address PFAS in Clean Water Act permitting;
• Publishing a new draft total adsorbable fluorine wastewater method; and
• Issuing the 5th Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to improve EPA’s understanding of the frequency that 29 PFAS are found in the nation’s drinking water systems and at what levels and preparing to propose a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation by the end of 2022.
Food For Thought – while some argue that the EPA has gone to far in their regulatory rule making, others view these proposed designations as a big step in the appropriate direction to regulate and capture critical data on the location of PFAS and PFOS so that these chemicals can be trapped and then eliminated from our water system and our sewage systems. Many reports now exists which indicate the negative impact of PFAS and PFOS on the human body. Wherever you come out on this topic, taking steps to reduce our own exposure and our children’s exposure to PFAS and PFOS and to focus on entrapment and non-hazardous destruction of these impactful chemicals is continuing to be the focus of many within the industry. New and improved technology for breaking down PFAS and PFOS into its constituent parts in a non-off gassing, safe manner are a very near future event and can be done.
Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project and how these new PFAS and PFOS rules might apply to you. For more information or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Alice Shanahan Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Joel Ephross, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo, Seth Cooley or David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you in regular contact or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.