EPA proposes designating certain PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under Superfund to protect people’s health

Following through on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to tackle environmental injustice and improve public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking a significant action under Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap 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.” This rulemaking would increase transparency around releases of these harmful chemicals and help to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up their contamination. 

The proposal applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, and is based on significant evidence that PFOA and PFOS may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare or the environment. 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. 

“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals. The action announced today will improve transparency and advance EPA’s aggressive efforts to confront this pollution, as outlined in the Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Under this proposed rule, EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.”  

Many known and potential sources of PFAS contamination are near communities already overburdened with pollution. If finalized, the rulemaking would trigger reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases, providing the Agency with improved data and the option to require cleanups and recover cleanup costs to protect public health and encourage better waste management. 

It would also improve EPA, state, Tribal nation, and local community understanding of the extent and locations of PFOA and PFOS contamination throughout the country and help all communities to avoid or reduce contact with these potentially dangerous chemicals.  

EPA is focused on holding responsible those who have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment. EPA 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 committed to 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. A release of these or any other hazardous substance will not always lead to the need to clean up or add a site to the National Priorities List (NPL), liability or an enforcement action. EPA anticipates 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, EPA welcomes comment for a 60-day comment period. 
As a subsequent step, EPA anticipates issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking after the close of the comment period on today’s proposal to seek public comment on designating other PFAS chemicals as CERCLA hazardous substances.  
Today’s actions represent a significant milestone within the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitments to combat PFAS pollution and safeguard drinking water, and specifically EPA’s October 2021 PFAS Strategic Roadmap. Under the Roadmap, EPA is working across the agency to protect the public from the health impacts of PFAS. EPA has taken a number of actions to deliver progress on PFAS including:  

  • Releasing drinking water health advisories for four PFAS – using the best available science to tackle 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 proactively address PFAS in Clean Water Act permitting;  
  • Publishing a new draft total adsorbable fluorine wastewater method; and 
  • Issuing the fifth 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. 

For more information

Source: U.S. EPA news release

Finnish lab claims mixed plastics breakthrough

Read the full story at Recycling Today.

The Espoo, Finland-based VTT Technical Research Centre says, after four decades of thermal conversion technology development, it is ready to commercialize a process it says “can affordably convert most of the world’s waste plastics back to usable virgin grade materials an infinite number of times.”

VTT says it will begin introducing its Olefy technology in October and that it has submitted eight patent applications for the process.

Its plans include the creation of a new company called Olefy Technologies that will put into place the new technology VTT says “can extract over 70 percent virgin grade plastics and chemical raw materials components from plastic waste.”

Retail’s ‘dark side’: As inventory piles up, liquidation warehouses are busy

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Consumers are buying fewer discretionary goods and returning more. To clear their shelves, retailers are selling to liquidators at steep discounts.

Climate Neutral is trying to build a net-zero labeling system that drives change–and dollars

Read the full story at Fast Company.

To earn the label, companies must not only show how they’re offsetting current emissions, but also lay out a plan for future carbon reduction.

You wouldn’t believe how many different things in this grocery store are reused

Read the full story at Fast Company.

When the Vancouver-based grocer Nada set out to open its first store, founders Brianne Miller and Alison Carr knew the design couldn’t just be something off the shelf. As a packaging-free grocer, where customers use empty pickle jars and salsa tubs to bring home the goods they buy, Nada’s ethos of reuse had to be integrated into the way the store looked and felt.

“We are big proponents of making use of things that already exist. It’s one of the best things we can do for the planet,” Miller says. “We really wanted everything we did to reflect that.”

So along with designers from the firm ZAS Architects, they began scouring the market for secondhand materials to outfit the space. At the same time, a Sears department store in the area went out of business. Suddenly the market was flooded with retail store furnishings.

Chemical risk assessment not up to par, researchers say

Read the full story from the University of Texas.

The current system of chemical risk assessment is inadequate and underestimates levels of flame retardants and other pollutants needed to cause harmful health effects, according to a recent analysis.

NASF/AESF Foundation Research Project #121: Development of a Sustainability Metrics System and a Technical Solution Method for Sustainable Metal Finishing – 8th Quarterly Report

Read the full story at Products Finishing.

This NASF-AESF Foundation research project report covers the eighth quarter of project work (January-March 2022) at Wayne State University in Detroit.  The major activities in this report period are: (1) the development of a sustainability assessment method for technology evaluation with case studies, and (2) a continuous development of a software tool for sustainability assessment.

17% of people live near toxic release facilities—here’s how it breaks down by state

Read the full story at Stacker.

Stacker analyzed data from the EPA Toxic Release Inventory and the U.S. Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey to identify the percent of each state’s population living in census tracts with toxic release sites, as well as the corporations and facilities responsible for emitting the highest amounts of toxins annually. These results reflect the last full year of data, 2020, from the 2020 National Analysis Dataset released in October 2021.

Non-PFAS wetting agents for decorative chromium(VI) plating

Read the full story at Products Finishing.

This article is based on a presentation given at NASF SUR/FIN 2022, in Rosemont, Illinois, in Session 6, Responses to PFAS / PFOA.  It follows the case study of three facilities’ conversion from PFAS-containing wetting agents to non-PFAS equivalents, eliminating PFAS and moving forward with a smaller and more sustainable environmental footprint.  The journey of conversion from PFAS-containing wetting agents in both chromic-sulfuric etch and hexavalent decorative plating tanks can be complicated and winding due to deep rooted standard industry practices, as well as state and federal regulations.  Outlined here is a clear course of action that led to eliminating PFAS from the facilities’ wetting agent strategies.

Can silkworms take a bite out of petrochemicals?

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The Activated Silk solution can be sprayed onto leather to create a protective coating that repels moisture, replacing the need for the thin polyurethane films.