The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to advance two new regulatory rules targeting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often termed “forever chemicals” due to their persistent nature in the environment and the human body.
The proposed rules signify the latest in the federal government’s ongoing strategy to combat the toxic pollution posed by PFAS.
PFAS chemicals, defined by their resilient carbon-fluorine bonds, are known for their resistance to heat, water and oil. This has led to their widespread integration into numerous consumer, commercial and industrial products. However, the same properties that made PFAS valuable in manufacturing have also rendered them a significant, long-term environmental concern requiring strict clean-up and permissioned usage.
The EPA’s first proposed rule seeks to refine the “Definition of Hazardous Waste Applicable to Corrective Action from Solid Waste Management Units.” This revision is intended to ensure that EPA’s regulations accurately embody the full scope of the authority of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which mandates that facilities holding hazardous substance permits are held accountable for their comprehensive cleanup of substances, including PFAS chemicals.
In addition, the EPA plans to amend the RCRA Hazardous Constituents regulations by classifying nine PFAS compounds as hazardous constituents.
The impetus for these proposed regulations is underscored by the tenacious nature of PFAS chemicals — unyielding in both environmental and biological contexts. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has linked the chemicals to health issues such as immune system disruption, cancer, thyroid hormone interference, liver enzyme changes and developmental impacts on fetuses.
Containing PFAS is part of a broader systemic campaign to mitigate their contamination. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ramped up scrutiny of the U.S. food supply since 2019, providing updates to the public and health officials. Similarly, the Department of Defense (DoD) has issued a recent statement on cleanup efforts at 30 DoD and National Guard facilities, prompted by last year’s DoD guidance to military departments for addressing PFAS hazards.
The two proposed regulations will soon be released for public comment in the Federal Registry, with a 30-day and 60-day window, respectively. The EPA is calling for active participation from the public to review and provide feedback on these critical proposals.
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