EPA Announces Multiple Actions on PFAS
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced three actions with the goal of reducing risks to the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
The actions include issuing a proposed rule that the EPA says is designed to gather comprehensive data on more than 1,000 PFAS manufactured in the United States, withdrawing guidance that weakened EPA’s July 2020 Significant New Use Rule restricting certain long-chain PFAS, and publishing a final rule that incorporates three additional PFAS into the Toxics Release Inventory.
“When it comes to tackling PFAS, EPA is committed to strengthening our rules, improving our data, and advancing our understanding of these complex chemicals, and then using this information to make informed decisions to protect people and the environment,” said Michal Freedhoff, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “These actions will help us harness the best available science to develop policies and programs that can improve health protections for everyone, including those living in historically underserved communities.”
About the Actions
In terms of the proposed rule to require reporting on PFAS manufactured in the U.S., the rule as a statutory requirement under the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require all manufacturers (including importers) of PFAS in any year since 2011 to report information related to chemical identity, categories of use, volumes manufactured and processed, byproducts, environmental and health effects, worker exposure and disposal.
The EPA says that this will help the agency understand the sources and quantities of PFAS in the U.S. and support the agency’s PFAS research, monitoring and regulatory efforts. Once finalized, this rule would reportedly be the first targeted effort under the Toxic Substances Control Act to collect information on the manufacture of PFAS.
To assist stakeholders in determining whether or not they have a reportable chemical, the EPA will provide examples, exemption notices and structural diagrams. The proposed deadline for reporting PFAS data to EPA is one year following the effective date of the final rule.
EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days following publication in the federal register via docket EPA-HQ-OPPT-2020-0549.
In addition to the new reporting action, the EPA has withdrawn a compliance guide that it says weakened the July 2020 Significant New Use Rule—this is in accordance with the Biden-Harris administration. The SNUR prohibits companies from importing certain long-chain PFAS as part of a “surface coating” on articles without prior EPA review and approval.
The EPA notes that the guide was issued in January, in the last days of the Trump administration and aimed to limit what would be considered “surface coating.” The guide also was never opened to public comments, the EPA added, saying that it determined that the guide “inappropriately narrowed the scope and weakened the prohibitions included in the SNUR.”
That guide has been removed and is no longer in effect.
Lastly, the EPA has taken the next step to implement a PFAS requirement of the NDAA. The NDAA provided a framework for additional PFAS to be added to TRI on an annual basis. For TRI Reporting Year 2021 (reporting forms due by July 1, 2022), the NDAA has added three PFAS to the TRI list because they are now subject to a SNUR under TSCA.
Per the NDAA requirements, the PFAS additions became effective as of Jan. 1. Reporting forms for these PFAS will be due to EPA by July 1, 2022, for calendar year 2021 data. View the final rule here.
Recent PFAS Work
Most recently, at the beginning of the month, President Joe Biden submitted his budget request of $11.2 billion for the EPA, with emphasis on issues such as the environment, science and support of state and local programs.
The budget breakdown included a provision for PFAS, namely that $75 million will go to accelerate toxicity studies and fund research to inform the regulatory developments of designating PFAS as hazardous substances while setting enforceable limits for PFAS.
In addition to the increase in funding proposed in the budget, Regan recently issued a memorandum to senior leadership calling for the creation of a new EPA Council on PFAS. The council’s mission is to build the agency’s work to better understand and reduce the risks caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
Regan asked Radhika Fox, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Water, and Deb Szaro, Acting Regional Administrator in Region 1, to convene and lead the EPA Council on PFAS, which will be comprised of senior EPA career officials from across the agency.
The goals of the council date back to a 2019 action plan that was never realized. Directives include:
Previous PFAS Work
Citing that same action plan, the EPA proposed regulations this time last year on important products that contain PFAS, such as coatings. At the time, the EPA said that, while it believes the use of these chemicals as surface coatings in imported goods has been phased out, this proposal would ensure that any new uses are reviewed by EPA before any products containing these chemicals could be imported into the United States again.
As part of the agency’s review, EPA has the authority to place restrictions on the import of products containing these chemicals as part of a surface coating.
The proposal clarifies the categories of products that would be covered under the significant new use rule. This clarification aligns the regulation with the Toxic Substances Control Act, according to the agency.
Prior to the 2019 action plan, the EPA held a summit in 2018 following the multiple spills of GenX at a Chemours plant in North Carolina. At that time in 2018, the EPA said that it considered PFAS to be “contaminants of emerging concern.”
The substances, which have been manufactured in the U.S. since the 1940s, remain and accumulate in the body and in the environment without breaking down, and the EPA has said that there is evidence that exposure to them “can lead to adverse human health effects.”
Studies have correlated elevated cholesterol rates with exposure to PFAS, and limited research has shown possible relationships between the substances and low infant birth weights, immune-system effects, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption, the agency said.
PFOA and PFOS (types of PFAS) were developed in the mid-20th century and have been studied somewhat extensively; replacement PFAS like GenX, on the other hand, have been developed more recently and are less understood.